The Beatification and Canonization of the Catholic Uganda Martyrs – 1920 -1970
In 1897 Archbishop Henri Streicher founded in Uganda the Uganda Martyrs Guild to participate in evangelization. Some chapters of the Guild became politicized in the 1950s. Under the influence of the Charismatic Movement, it later developed into an important anti-witchcraft movement in Tooro. The honor paid to the Uganda martyrs elsewhere in Africa serves to Africanize Catholicism, as for instance in Senegal, where a church built in 1890 contains their relics and where there are several churches dedicated to Kizito, the youngest of the Uganda Martyrs.
Rather than deter the growth of Christianity, the martyrdom of these early believers seems to have sparked its growth instead. As has been observed in many other instances, the blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of faith. Christianity (in its various flavours) is now the dominant faith in Buganda and Uganda as a whole. The 22 known Catholic martyrs were beatified and declared “Blessed” by Pope Benedict XV on 6 June 1920. This is one of the key steps in the catholic tradition that eventually leads to canonization.
During the Vatican II Conference, on Mission Sunday, 18 October 1964, the twenty-two (22) Catholic Martyrs of Uganda were canonized and solemnly proclaimed Saints by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.
The momentous occasion with its age-old rites and traditional pomp and pageantry was rendered even more colorful and spectacular than usual by the presence of the vast majority of the Cardinals, Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops of the Catholic Church, gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council. Also present were representatives of the Government of Uganda, the reigning Kabaka of Buganda –Kabaka (King) Edward Muteesa II and other countries, and also over two hundred clergies, religious and lay people from Uganda.
This uniquely magnificent event, when for the first time the people of Central Africa were to take their place in the glorious army of saints, was greeted with a sound never before heard in St. Peter’s, the pulsating rhythm of African drums and other instruments, as the long Papal procession filed into the great basilica. From this day forward, these brave Uganda Martyrs will now forever be recognized by the universal church, revered and honored as true Christian Saints. This was a first for modern Africa and a source of Catholic pride throughout the continent and the world.