28 November 2015, The Tablet

Pope in Africa: Francis praises 'ecumenism of blood' of Anglican and Catholic martyrs in Uganda

by Christopher Lamb in Kampala

During his visit to Uganda Pope Francis this morning went to the shrine of the Anglican martyrs who he later described as witnesses to an “ecumenism of blood.”

23 Anglicans and 22 Catholics were killed under the orders of King Mwanga II at the end of the nineteenth century. They were some of the first Christians of the country with the faith being brought to the country by missionaries from both churches. 

Pope Francis made a brief visit this morning to the Anglican shrine in Namugongo which is the place of martyrdom of 25 of those killed. 

He then went to the national Catholic shrine nearby to say Mass where he was greeted by a crowd of thousands enthusiastically singing and dancing.

During his homily the Pope said of both sets of martyrs: “All these witnesses nurtured the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives an freely gave testimony of the faith in Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their lives, many at such a young age.” 



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The phrase “ecumenism of blood” has been used by the Pope before describing Christians of different denominations killed for their faith in the Middle East. 

Many of the Catholic martyrs were young pages of King Mwanga and were killed for their refusal to accept his homosexual advances. 

During a briefing with journalists last night the Bishop of Lira, Giuseppe Franzelli, a Comboni missionary, said the issue of homosexuality was “still an issue” in Uganda. 

The country came under international criticism after a bill was proposed to make homosexual relations punishable by death - in the end the legislation was passed with the death penalty replaced with life imprisonment as a maximum penalty. 

The martyrs are symbols of national identity in Uganda and last October marked 50 years since their canonisation by Pope Paul VI.

In his homily the Pope continued his theme that the martyrs can inspire Uganda to build up the common good of the - something he stressed last night at his speech at State House in Entebbe.  

The witness of the martyrs, the Pope explained, show that “worldly pleasures and earthy power do not bring lasting joy or peace.”



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Instead it is brought by “fidelity to God, honesty and integrity of life, and genuine concern for the good of others” while in turn helps build a more just society. 

“We honour them [the martyrs], and all the saints, when we carry on their witness to Christ, in our homes and neighbourhoods, in our workplaces and civil society,” Francis added. 

The notion that faith cements national identity is a consistent theme of the Pope’s. During his visit to Cuba, for example, Francis said Our Lady of El Cobre helped nurture the country’s identity. 

Later today the Pope is due to meet young people in Kampala visit a house of charity in Nalukolongo and then meet with priests, religious and seminarians this evening. 


He is due to fly to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, tomorrow. 



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