Home > Archives > 07 - 2003 > Paul VI and the memory of the African martyrs
from issue no. 07 - 2003

Pope Montini’s homily on the occasion of the raising to the altars of the Ugandan martyrs

Paul VI and the memory of the African martyrs

by Davide Malacaria

Pope Paul VI in Namugongo

Pope Paul VI in Namugongo

In 1964 Pope Paul VI canonized 22 Catholic faithful martyred in Uganda between the years 1885 and 1887. The best known of these, Carlo Lwanga, was burned alive, along with another twelve Catholics and ten or eleven Christians from other denominations, the 3 June 1886 in Namugongo. Paul VI himself, on his journey to Uganda in 1969, wished to consecrate the high altar of the sanctuary of Namugongo, erected on the place of the martyrdom of Carl Lwanga and his companions. We publish an extract from the homily given by the Pontiff on 18 October 1964, on the occasion of the raising to the altars of the Ugandan martyrs.

“These African martyrs add to the register of the victorious, which the martyrology is, a tragic and magnificent page, truly worthy of being added to those marvelous ones of ancient Africa, which we moderns, men of little faith, thought would never again have a worthy continuation. Who could have supposed, for instance, that to the most moving story of the shining martyrs, of the Carthaginian martyrs, of the martyrs of the “Massa candida” of Utica, of which Saint Augustine and Prudentius wrote, of the Egyptian martyrs, of whom we preserve the elegy by Saint John Chrystomom, of the martyrs of the Vandal persecutions, there would be added new stories no less heroic, no less splendid, in our own times? Who could have foreseen that to the great historical figures of the holy African martyrs and confessors, such as Cyprian, Felicity and Perpetua and the great Augustine, we would one day have associated the names of Carlo Lwanga and Mattia Mulumba Kalemba, along with their twenty companions? Nor, indeed, do we wish to forget the others who, belonging to the Anglican confession, confronted death in the name of Christ.
These African martyrs open a new epoch; oh! we don’t wish to think of persecutions and religious quarrel but of Christian and civil regeneration. Africa, bathed with the blood of these martyrs, the first of the new era (oh, may it please God that that they be the last, so great and precious has their holocaust been!), rises again free and redeemed. The tragedy which devoured them is so unheard of and expressive as to offer representative elements sufficient for the moral formation of a new people, for the foundation of a new spiritual tradition, to symbolize and to promote the passage from a primitive civilization, not lacking in magnificent human values, but infected and weak and almost a slave of itself, to a civilization open to the superior expressions of the spirit and to superior forms of social life”.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português