Pope Francis has visited the Anglican shrine to the Ugandan Martyrs in Namugongo, and spoken of an “ecumenism of blood.”
The pope looked visibly pained and shocked as the Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, Primate of the Anglican Church of Uganda, explained how the martyrs were put to death on the orders of the King of Buganda in the late 19th century for refusing to renounce their faith.
Later, in a sermon during a Papal Mass outside the shrine, Pope Francis spoke of the sacrifice of the 45 young men (23 Anglicans and 22 Roman Catholics), saying that their “witness of love for Christ and his Church has truly gone ‘to the end of the earth.’ … We remember also the Anglican martyrs whose deaths for Christ testify to the ecumenism of blood. All these witnesses nurtured the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives and freely gave testimony of their faith in Jesus Christ, even at the cost of their lives, many at such a young age.”
He said the Ugandan Martyrs “had tended to their faith and deepened their love of God, they were fearless in bringing Christ to others, even at the cost of their lives. Their faith became witness; today, venerated as martyrs, their example continues to inspire people throughout the world. They continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and the power of his Cross.”
During the tour of the new Uganda Martyrs Museum at the Anglican Shrine, Pope Francis and Archbishop Stanley paused at the fire pit where the 45 converts to Christianity were martyred on June 3, 1886.
“The Roman Catholic martyrs died for the same Jesus Christ as the Anglican martyrs,” Archbishop Stanley said. “Together, they suffered; together, they sacrificed; together, they sang. Together, their blood has been the seed of the church in Uganda.”
His message echoed the pope’s words in July in St. Peter’s Square in Rome as he anticipated his visit to Uganda. “The blood of the martyrs makes us one,” he said. “We know that those who kill Christians in hatred of Jesus Christ, before killing, do not ask: ‘Are you an evangelical, or [Anglican], or Orthodox?’ They say: ‘You are Christian,’ and behead them.”
Alluding to a traditional African proverb, Archbishop Ntagali said, “If we want to go fast, let us go alone. As the wider Christian community in Uganda, however, if we want to go far, let us go together. This is why we were very happy to welcome the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church to the [Anglican] Church of Uganda.”
The House of Bishops of the Church of Uganda, along with the Provincial Heads of Laity and Clergy, the Provincial President of Mother’s Union, and several thousand Anglican clergy and laity arrived at the Martyrs’ Shrine at sunrise to prepare to welcome the pope.
Retired Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo has spearheaded development of the Uganda Martyrs’ Museum to ensure their legacy for future generations.
Pope Francis unveiled a dedication stone and offered a prayer that the Uganda Martyrs would continue to inspire generations of youth to follow Christ. Later in the afternoon he met thousands of Ugandan youth in Kampala to encourage them to pray and be faithful to Christ.
The President of Uganda and the First Lady were also present at the Anglican Martyrs’ Shrine.
Pope Francis is the third Pope to visit the Anglican shrine. Paul VI visited on August 2, 1969; five years earlier, in 1964, he had canonized the Roman Catholic martyrs. Pope John Paul II visited on March 7, 1993.
The Church of Uganda offers this gallery of photos by Petero Buyondo and Francis Emorut, which is the source of the featured image of Pope Francis and Archbishop Stanley Ntagali offering a joint blessing.