Martyrs’ Day 2020 was celebrated low key, due to the Corona virus pandemic. Yet the Martyrs of Uganda remain an encyclopedia of Christian heroism. They exhibit what it means to cooperate with the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. God infuses these virtues in the life of a believer at baptism, as a foundation of Christian moral activity.
A martyr is a witness, not a victim (Acts 1:8). Martyrdom constitutes the giving of one’s life, in obedience to God rather than to men (Acts 5:29).
It is a vocation to embrace and personalise the life of Jesus Christ, as indicated in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). In Luke 21:19 Jesus forewarned that Christians would meet opposition, but also encouraged loyalty, endurance and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to overcome the enemy.
Although all the martyrs came from a satanic background, they endured the challenging process of embracing Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour.
Gyaviira Musoke Mayanja’s journey of conversion is captivating. His father, Ssemalago Mubiru, was a witchdoctor and priest to “god” Mayanja. Mayanja was thought to have been a leopard supposedly tamed by Ssemalago and staying in his home, although none ever claimed to have seen it.
At the time of being dedicated into the king’s service, Gyaviira had been trained to succeed his father in the lucrative business of witchcraft. Witchcraft is described as the exercise or invocation of supernatural powers to control people or events, practices typically involving sorcery or magic.
With the help of Charles Lwanga, who doubled as head of royal pages and Christian catechist, Gyaviira, abandoned witchcraft.
However, it was at the cost of being disowned by his father. Having embraced the worship of the one true God; creator, provider and saviour of all, Gyaviira offered his life in martyrdom on June 3, 1886, at the age of 17. He intercedes for people troubled by witchcraft.
Although Uganda claims to be a modern and Christian society, witchcraft is still largely practiced, even among the elite.
According to the April 2020, report by the US-based Pew Research Centre, two out of every 10 Ugandans, believe in witchcraft. There has been a sharp rise in ritual murders of women and children in Uganda, by witchdoctors to allegedly help their clients attain good health, wealth and success.
The mix up
The same scenario accounts for the high rise in number of deliverance ministries. Some ministers turn their God-given charism, meant for the building up of families and church, into a business and fame (see John 2:16).
They mix witchcraft with some Christian teachings and practices, syncretism, to fleece people. All spiritual and physical problems are reduced to demonic possession or curses. Some deliverance ministries do not recognise legitimate suffering in the Christian life and Christ’s victory over evil.
The bible view
In Galatians 5:20, St Paul lists witchcraft among the evil works and a hindrance from entry into the kingdom of God. Jesus invites the Church to deepen people’s faith, hope and charity through the word of God, the message of the cross, prayer and fasting as well as sacramental life, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation (see Matthew 17:14-18).
We hail the martyrs of Uganda as our ancestors because they personify conversion, conviction and commitment to Jesus Christ.
According to St Paul, “we are always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:10). This truth does not, however, lessen the pain and fear, but gives confidence and grace for bearing this witness.