Who Is St. Charles Lwanga?
The Bannakaroli Brothers are committed to following in the example of St. Charles Lwanga and his companions. Who was he, and why has he inspired so many?
Charles Lwanga was born in 1860 under the reign of King Mwanga of Buganda, a kingdom that would later become part of modern Uganda.
When King Mwanga ascended the throne in 1884, he proved to be a vicious ruler. His court was plagued with accusations of his inappropriate advances on young pages, and he proved to be much more aggressive than previous rulers to outside religious expansion, expelling missionaries and insisting that Christian converts abandon their faith or face death.
When the king had a visiting Anglican Bishop murdered, his chief page, Joseph Mukasa, a Catholic who went to great length to protect the younger boys from the king’s lust, denounced the king’s actions and was beheaded on November 15, 1885.
25-years-old Charles Lwanga, a man wholly dedicated to the Christian instruction of the younger boys, then became the chief page, and followed in Mukasa’s footsteps of protecting the youth of the court from the king’s advances.
The following May, King Mwanga learned that one of the boys was learning Catholic catechism. He was furious, ordered all the pages to be questioned, and to separate the Christians from the others. Charles Lwanga and the rest of the Christians, all between the ages of 13 and 25, were imprisoned. The King asked them if they were willing to keep their faith. They answered unflinchingly that they were.
They were bound together and taken on a two day walk to Namugongo where they were to be burned at the stake. When they reached the site, they were kept tied together for seven days while the executioners prepared the wood for the fire. On June 3, 1886, the Feast of the Ascension, Charles Lwanga was separated from the others and burned. The executioners slowly burnt his feet until they were charred. Still alive, they promised him that they would let him go if he renounced his faith. He refused, reportedly saying: “You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body.” He then continued to pray silently as they set him on fire. Just before the flames reached his heart, he looked up and said in a loud voice, “Katonda! – My God!,” and died.
His companions were all burned together the same day all the while praying and singing hymns. There were 22 martyrs in all. The last of the martyrs, a young man named John Mary, was beheaded by King Mwanga on January 27, 1887.
The persecutions spread during King Mwanga's reign, with 100 Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, being tortured and killed. St. Charles and his companions were beatified in 1920 and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964. Today, the Bannakaroli Brothers carry out their numerous works in the brave example of St. Charles Lwanga.
Below is a interview with Brother Tarcis Nsobya of the Bannakroli Brothers, who speaks more about the life and significance of St. Charles Lwanga.