Miracles are a must in the canonisation process in the Catholic Church. The candidate for sainthood or canonisation ought to have had miracles performed through his or her intercession, once he or she has gone through the first three stages.
The process under which the Uganda Martyrs were canonised had been in place since 1738. However, through the Apostolic constitution, also known as the Divinus Perfectionis Magister of January 25, 1983, Pope John Paul II made some changes in the canonisation process.
Addressing himself to miracles and canonisation, Pope Innocent III, who reigned from 1198 to 1226, wrote: “Two things are required so that somebody may be considered a saint in the Church Militant, namely works of piety during his life and miracles after death.”
The Cambridge dictionary defines a miracle as “an unusual and mysterious event that is thought to have been caused by a god because it does not follow the usual laws of nature.”
In the case of the Uganda Martyrs, to be canonised, miracles needed to have been performed by people praying to God through their intercession.
In a space of 20 years, two healing miracles happened in Uganda during the canonisation process of the Uganda Martyrs. According to the Rev Fr Joseph Mukasa Muwonge, the promoter of the devotion to the Uganda Martyrs, the healing of the two sisters at Rubaga and Revocato Kalema at Bigada in Kakuto now Kyotera District, were miracles performed by God through the martyrs.
“The two sisters were healed in 1941 at the Martyr’s altar in Rubaga Cathedral while Revocate Kalema was healed in 1961 at the altar of the Bigada Parish church.”
In the first edition of Obulamu bwa Bajulizi (Life of the martyrs), Msgr Timoteo. M. Ssemwogerere describes the two miracles as some of those that Vatican based on to canonise the Uganda Catholic Martyrs.
Two white sisters, Sr M. Aloyse Criblet and Sr Richildis, had been infected with the bubonic plague ravaging the country at the time when they cared for one of their members, Sister Philothy, who later died in their care.
According to Msgr Ssemwogerere, the two nuns who cared for her are the only ones who buried her. But soon after, they were down with the same disease.
“Two medical doctors, one Dr Ahmed, a private practitioner, and one Dr Reynolds from Mulago, were called. The two recommended a quarantine. The Rubaga Parish priest at the time, Fr Joseph Cabana, and Msgr Edward Michaud called for nine days of prayer known as novena.”
People were praying from their homes. The two sick sisters were placed at the altar of the martyrs in the cathedral at the start of the novena.
“On the third day, the sisters, whose death was being awaited, were healed,” wrote Msgr Ssemwogerere, who was the vice postulator to the canonisation of the Ugandan martyrs.
Rome spent three years investigating the miracle cure.
“Rome sent an official from the Congregation of Rites to Uganda. The official spent a month at Rubaga interrogating eight priests and other witnesses to the cure. He went back with a huge file having concluded that indeed this was a miraculous cure,” wrote Msgr Ssemwogerere.
The boy with carved legs
He lost his mother in the hospital soon after his birth and his father followed a few months later. His 80-year-old grandmother took care of him. He was born with the bones of his lower legs not fully developed and the feet carved inwards.
“Because of the circumstances of my birth, I and my grandmother were shunned by the villagers. I was taken in by the nuns because my grandmother was too old to look after me,” said Revocato Kalema.
In 1961, a novena was declared by then Masaka Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka. People were asked to pray for miracles from the Uganda Martyrs. The nuns at Bigada Parish and other believers prayed for a miracle to cure the three-year-old Revocato who could not stand nor walk.
Augustino Mukiibi was a nine-year-old pupil in Primary One when the miracle happened.
“He was the responsibility of a female pupil, Maria Mutagamba (RIP), who later became a minister. Every morning, she carried him to the church and placed him at the martyrs’ altar. He was left there after prayers and she only returned to the convent during lunch break and after the evening holy Mass,” recalled Mukiibi.
He added: “On the sixth day of the novena when Mutagamba went to collect him for lunch, she found him on the stairs. She was shocked and made a jubilation alarm that attracted the nuns. Seeing what had happened, Mass was called immediately.”
Matia Sserugobe, a 71-year-old resident of Gigayaza Village in Kakuto, was a Primary Five pupil at Bigada Boys Primary School. He was a protégé of the Kiterede Bothers and a resident at the parish. He recalls the June 1961 events vividly, as though they happened yesterday.
“Towards the last days of the nine day novena, a girl went to pick him up and take him for lunch. She found him seated on the stairs of the church. He demonstrated how he had moved from the altar to come outside. There were jubilations; the miracle we had been praying for through the martyrs had been performed. By the time this happened, I was staying in Bigada parish with the Kiterede brothers.”
For Mauricia Nasamula, a resident of Kitasiba Village in Kakuto, witnessing the miracle strengthened her devotion to the martyrs her entire life. “I was 13 years old when the miracle of Revocate happened. I first saw him when our teacher, sister Zaveria, brought him to the convent,” explained 72-year-old Nasamula.
“It was on June 14, 1961, on the sixth day of the Novena when the miracle happened. We used to pray with our hands stretched out. After prayers, he was left alone in the church at the altar. There was jubilation, drums were sounded for people to come for Mass. As a catholic, that action of praying through the martyrs and the miracle has made my devotion to them stronger ever since.”