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Mulumba: The Ugandan Martyrs and Saints of the Church

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By Emmanuel Gandu

Saints in Africa are very few as they are not as many as those from Europe and the Americas.

In Roman times, and before the Muslim conquest of North Africa, few Saints from North Africa were produced including the famous St. Augustine of Hoppo. In the second coming of Christianity to Africa however, the attention shifted to East Africa where Mathias Kalemba Mulumba and his companions (22 of them all) became the next set of African saints.

Who is Mulumba?

Mulumba (full name = Mathias Kalemba Mulumba) was born in 1836 in Uganda. He is one of the 22 Roman Catholic martyrs of Uganda who were executed between 1885 and 1886. Mathias Kalemba Mulumba was a member of the Soga tribe born in Bunya Eastern Uganda. He was captured together with his mother by slave raiders and sold as a slave to a prominent chief. Kalemba rose rapidly to the position of supervisor in the Chief’s palace. At the death of the chief Kalemba occupied a prominent position in the hierarchy and was henceforth to be known as the Mulumba.

In 1880 Mathias Kalemba Mulumba enrolled as a Catholic Catechumen taking his Christian allegiance seriously by teaming up with like minds to organize Christian instructions for the natives. He was baptized in 1882.

By the time persecution broke out in 1885 and got more serious in 1886, his community of Catechumens had risen to about 200.

Why was Mulumba and his companions killed?

Mathias Kalemba Mulumba was one of the executed popular Christian converts made up of 23 Anglicans and 22 Catholics in the Kingdom of Buganda in Uganda.

They were murdered on the order of the king ie, the Kabaka of Buganda, Muanga II for their refusal to denounce Christianity which was seen as a threat to the throne of the king.

As expected, the growing influence of Christianity and the rise of a new and vibrant brand of Western religion was becoming a big challenge to the traditional institution in Uganda. This was not acceptable to the Buganda traditional council. The men must die.

How was Mulumba killed?

Between 1885 and 3rd June 1886, a series of executions were carried out on the orders of the Kabaka, Muanga II on Christian converts who refused to denounce their Christian faith.

Being the oldest of his companions, Mulumba was 50 at the time of his death in 1886.

He died the most brutal and longest lingering death of about 3 days.

His limbs were cut off from his body, and strips of flesh were cut off from his back. All the cut-off limbs and flesh were left in front of him as he remained tied to the stake. He watched and smelled his decomposing limbs, flesh, and blood for 3 days to his death, and yet refused to denounce his Christian faith.

The other companions were subjected to similar undignified deaths. They were tied to the stakes above a big born fire set alight and burnt them slowly till death.

Despite this, they refused to denounce their faith and kept playing and singing Christian choruses as they burnt to death.

What was the reaction of the world to these killings?

News of these Killings received counter-reaction. In Europe for example, some saw it as a way to discourage missionary activities in Uganda and indeed Africa. Others viewed it as a clarion call to renewed efforts towards evangelism.

‘The Times’ Newspaper of 30th October 1886 called it ‘the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.’

Surely, these various reactions and sentiments developed into a campaign for European intervention in the region.

How Mulumba was made a saint?

(1) The Catholic Church used the incident to make the victims the focus of concerted evangelization drives leading to various forms of veneration.

(2) Pope Benedict XV beatified Mulumba and his companions in 1920.

(3) Pope Paul VI canonized them as Saints of the church in 1964, 44 years after their beatification.

This canonization of the Martyrs of Uganda to sainthood attracted a great deal of attention to the Catholic Church in Africa culminating in positive evangelization and converts to the faith.

In what ways does the church remember Mulumba and his companions?

(1) The honour and tributes paid to the Martyrs of Uganda serve to partly Africanize Catholicism.

(2) In Senegal, a church built in 1890 contains the relics of St. Mulumba and his companions.

(3) Several churches in Africa are dedicated to, and named after Kizito, the youngest of them all (14 years old).

(4) The Basilica of the Ugandan Martyrs at Namugongo in Uganda was built in 1968 and has become the venue of massive pilgrimages by not only Catholics but also other Christian denominations, and even our Muslim brothers.

(5) Pope John Paul II during his papacy visited their shrine in Namugongo on the 7th. February 1993 and this is part of what he said in his homily – “Their sacrifice of martyrdom was the seed that helped to draw East Africa and the entire African continent to Christ.”

(6) The Catholic Knighthood order founded by Rev. Fr and Monk Anselm Abraham Idahome Ojefua is named “Knights of St. Mulumba” (KSM).

(7) The Catholic Church dedicates June 3, one of the days the Martyrs of Uganda were executed to death as a feast day. This June 3 feast is included in the Catholic liturgical calendar.

(8) The Ugandan Episcopal Conference established a university in 1993 and named it after them.

(9) The Martyrs of Uganda are also venerated by the Anglican Communion.

(10) Authors, writers, and public commentators have churned out books on Mulumba and his companions, some of which include – (a) “The African Holocaust” by J.F Faupel, (b) “Heroes of African origin are our Ancestors in the Faith” by C.L Mpoza.

Revered for their faith, courage, vigour, and their counter-cultural witnesses to Christ, it will not be an overstatement to say that Mulumba and his companions are the men and boys whose martyrdom is considered the spark that ignited the flames of Christianity in modern Africa.

“May the light of that holocaust never cease to shine in Africa” – Pope John Paul II (1993)

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