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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

The Martyrdom of St. Charles Lwanga

Fr. Scott Haynes

St. Charles Lwanga was roasted alive on a slow fire in 1886, by the order of the King of Uganda, Mawanga II. Why was he martyred in such a way, and what about his companions? Why were they killed?

St. Charles Lwanga was a young Catholic man who used to serve in the court of Mwanga II, the King of Uganda. He was very talented, in spite of a young age, he was promoted to the post of the head of all the Christian pages in the court of the King. But he did not use his talent and all the other gifts he received from God for his own benefit, on the contrary he was a young man who gave all that he had, all that he received from God, he used them for God's glory. Thus, he used to take advantage of the position he had at his court, the gift he had to speak, to convince, to influence, all of this together, he  used to use for God's glory to convert the other pages who were under his guidance, from paganism  to the true faith.

Unfortunately, Mwanga the second was a different sort of man, a man who permitted his lower passions to rule. He was constantly enticing his pages and other men and boys into sinful acts. St. Charles Lwanga would not permit this; he would do use all in  his power to rescue to defend the pages under his guidance, to save them from the lust of the King.


King Mwanga II tolerated Lwanga to a point, but one day his  passions were enraged when the pages refused his immoral proposals. In a fit of anger, all the pages were summoned before him. He had the intent of forcing them to apostatize and reject Jesus Christ. He knew that adhering to Christianity was preventing them from sinning with him. St. Charles Lwanga observed what was happening. He realized his end was near, so he took the maximum advantage of the last few hours, and in that time he baptized even more pages, so that they might have the gift of sanctifying grace.

At a certain moment, the King demanded that all the Christian pages to renounce faith in Christ Jesus. He wanted them to return to their pagan practices, so that there would no longer be an obstacle to his wicked desires for them. Nonetheless through the influence of St. Charles Lwanga, nobody fell into this trap. All resisted.


As these boys and men were led to the place of execution, the executioners could hardly believe their eyes, because  the oldest one of them was 25 years old. How such young boys and men could go so happily to their deaths in a spirit of peace baffled them. Intense pressure was put on the pages once again to forsake Christ and to submit to the King’s desires, but all of them joyfully persevered, faithful to God.  


A catholic missionary who saw the scene almost fainted out of terror,  but a small boy, 13 years old (St. Kizito) saw the priest and pointed to  heaven as was saying, "I'll wait for you there."  But while all the others were burned to  death in a raging fire, St. Charles Lwanga,, being the leader, and having incited the King’s hatred, suffered much more.  He was tied onto a pyre and roasted to death on a slow fire. The fire only consumed his feet. The rest of his body was consumed by the heat, as he was roasted to death in a slow agony. In no moment did  he show the least sign of hatred or revolt, but rather, he prayed for his executioners and for  his country, so that all of them would find life in Christ our Savior. So too, he pardoned them after the example of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

What lesson can we learn from such an admirable life? St. Charles Lwanga teaches us fortitude and fidelity. As we examine ourselves, we must ask if we are fearful of standing up for Jesus before others. Do we use God’s gifts to the fullest or do we bury the gifts He gives? Do we courageously cling to the revealed truth of the Gospel no matter the cost? If we daily fail at these daily tests of our resolve to follow the Lord, what will I do when God asks me for a greater demonstration of my faith, when my faith is put to test, when I am put between a heroic act or a vile sin? Most will fail in courage and fall in sin. Knowing our human weakness, with each day that passes, we must plead to God for divine assistance, that we be more faithful in the little things, so that when the big tests of our faith come upon us, we will be accustomed to making sacrifices for love of Our Lord. We will be schooled in the courage of charity.


Let us ask St. Charles Lwanga and his companions this grace, that in our day-to-day life we may be faithful, and on the  day of our death, when we will have to face God, on this day we may be faithful to our Catholic  faith so that, after our death we may live in eternal happiness forever and ever.  


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