Vatican City, 28 November 2015 (VIS) – Early this morning, the Pope visited the Anglican shrine at Namugongo (under the jurisdiction of the Church of Uganda), erected in the place where 25 Ugandans, Catholics and Anglicans, were martyred between 1884 and 1887. Their relics are conserved in a chapel adjacent to the holy building, situated just a few kilometres from the Catholic shrine. Francis was welcomed by the Anglican archbishop Stanley Ntagali, and he unveiled a commemorative plaque near the recently restored chapel. He then went to the place where the martyrs were condemned, tortured and killed. Forty bishops of the Ugandan Anglican episcopate were present in the chapel. After praying a few minutes in silence, the Holy Father took leave of Archbishop Ntagali and travelled the three kilometres between the Anglican and Catholic shrines by popemobile.
The national Catholic shrine of Namugongo stands in a large natural park where religious ceremonies are often held in the open air, due to the large numbers of faithful. The shape of the Church recalls that of the traditional huts of the Baganda or “Akasiisiira” ethnic group, and is supported by 22 pillars commemorating the 22 Catholic martyrs. In front of the main entrance to the Basilica, below the great altar, there is the place where Charles Lwanga was burned alive in 1886. The church was consecrated by Blessed Paul VI during his apostolic trip to Uganda in 1969, and is a destination for pilgrims throughout the year, but especially on 3 June, the day of Charles Lwanga's martyrdom.
Before celebrating the Eucharist, Francis entered the Basilica and prayed before the altar which holds the relics of Charles Lwanga. He then toured the area by popemobile to greet the thousands of faithful who attended the votive Mass for the fiftieth anniversary of the canonisation of the martyrs of Uganda, and pronounced the following homily:
“From the age of the Apostles to our own day, a great cloud of witnesses has been raised up to proclaim Jesus and show forth the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, we recall with gratitude the sacrifice of the Uganda martyrs, whose witness of love for Christ and his Church has truly gone 'to the end of the earth'. We remember also the Anglican martyrs whose deaths for Christ testify to the ecumenism of blood. All these witnesses nurtured the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives and freely gave testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their lives, many at such a young age”.
“We too have received the gift of the Spirit, to make us sons and daughters of God, but also so that we may bear witness to Jesus and make him everywhere known and loved. We received the Spirit when we were reborn in Baptism, and we were strengthened by his gifts at our Confirmation. Every day we are called to deepen the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life, to 'fan into flame' the gift of his divine love so that we may be a source of wisdom and strength to others”.
“The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift which is meant to be shared. It unites us to one another as believers and living members of Christ’s mystical Body. We do not receive the gift of the Spirit for ourselves alone, but to build up one another in faith, hope and love. I think of Saints Joseph Mkasa and Charles Lwanga, who after being catechised by others, wanted to pass on the gift they had received. They did this in dangerous times. Not only were their lives threatened but so too were the lives of the younger boys under their care. Because they had tended to their faith and deepened their love of God, they were fearless in bringing Christ to others, even at the cost of their lives. Their faith became witness; today, venerated as martyrs, their example continues to inspire people throughout the world. They continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and the power of his Cross”.
“If, like the martyrs, we daily fan into flame the gift of the Spirit who dwells in our hearts, then we will surely become the missionary disciples which Christ calls us to be. To our families and friends certainly, but also to those whom we do not know, especially those who might be unfriendly, even hostile, to us. This openness to others begins first in the family, in our homes where charity and forgiveness are learned, and the mercy and love of God made known in our parents’ love. It finds expression too in our care for the elderly and the poor, the widowed and the orphaned”.
“The witness of the martyrs shows to all who have heard their story, then and now, that the worldly pleasures and earthly power do not bring lasting joy or peace. Rather, fidelity to God, honesty and integrity of life, and genuine concern for the good of others bring us that peace which the world cannot give. This does not diminish our concern for this world, as if we only look to the life to come. Instead, it gives purpose to our lives in this world, and helps us to reach out to those in need, to cooperate with others for the common good, and to build a more just society which promotes human dignity, defends God’s gift of life and protects the wonders of nature, his creation and our common home”.
“Dear brothers and sisters, this is the legacy which you have received from the Ugandan martyrs – lives marked by the power of the Holy Spirit, lives which witness even now to the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This legacy is not served by an occasional remembrance, or by being enshrined in a museum as a precious jewel. Rather, we honour them, and all the saints, when we carry on their witness to Christ, in our homes and neighbourhoods, in our workplaces and civil society, whether we never leave our homes or we go to the farthest corner of the world”.
“May the Uganda martyrs, together with Mary, Mother of the Church, intercede for us, and may the Holy Spirit kindle within us the fire of his divine love! Omukama abawe omukisa. God bless you!”.