The Power of Faith
Uganda Martyrs Shrine at Namugongo
Christians Praying at Uganda Martyrs Namugongo church

The Power of Faith

The Uganda Martyrs and a battle of the spirits; a miracle that continues to grow .

By Pius Mwinganisa
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First published: March 3, 2005


It is not the nearby crossroad of mushrooming roadside shops and not the lone modern gas station with its fluorescent lights. None of these attract a second glance as this world's wonder of faith sitting here majestically in its enormity.


The Namugongo Uganda Martyrs Shrine is about a 20 minutes drive from Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Christianity was foreign to the people living in this heart of Africa until 1800s when it for ever left a mark at Namugongo and the life of Africa.

Ben Tenywa 35, stands at the entrance of the main church at this shrine recalling the story of executions at the hands of the mighty rulers. A young Christian brought to Namugongo when he was about eighteen, he has been trained and groomed as a guide and is well read on the subject of the Uganda Martyrs. He now serves under father Charles Kato who heads this place. He points at a spot inside the church where the brutal murder of 26 Christians took place by agents of Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda.

�It was the climax of a campaign against the converts,� he bellows, speaking with bewilderment. �The crime of the converts was that they defied their kabaka and would prefer attending Sunday church service instead of the king�s social needs.�

A miracle of miracles surrounds this event. Illiterate subjects, some barely a week old in the Christian faith, laid down their lives in what they believed in. This was to forsake life principles and values for the greater part of their lifetime and that of their forefathers. The mind-boggling teaser remains, did an enlightening spirit come down upon these novice converts? Or was it unique circumstances facing small men with strong faith, caught between hammer and anvil?

It was a battle of spirits at Namugongo.

�It was unheard of for a mare page to reject the wishes of a king, even if it was the homosexual advances of Kabaka Mwanga. What followed was the execution to please the divine gods and to restore the authority of the king that had been challenged. Some Christians were picked from Munyonyo and were murdered along the way. Others made it to Namugongo, Kabaka Mwanga�s execution center.� His voice tapered off into silence as if to acknowledge the hovering spirits the dead.

Kabaka Mwanga�s plan backfired as the Christians� martyrdom set the foundation of Christianity in Buganda, the religion eventually becoming dominant in other parts of Uganda. The shrine was built to honor the martyrs in.

Is it not here that lays that key to unlock all Africa�s problems? Africans proved here to be of insurmountable faith. Even now, as poverty and disease continue to devour whole communities, new churches, mosques, and divine shrines are sprouting at this terrific pace as if is in pursuit of the devil. That undisputed key is that wonder faith. Faith way beyond religious dogma and spiritual mysticism, but faith in the African-self. Is it not stated and proven that what man can believe in, he can achieve?

What is not told is what was real on the ground. Mwanga was a king caught in circumstances none of his own making. A king in his twenties, two years in his reign with a kingdom tearing at the seams, and subjects following their own whims. Options to assert sovereign power persisted to be slim. Remember, this was at a pinnacle of British colonization;matrix reloaded. Catholics, Protestant Christians, Moslems and diviners all were vying for influence and power with hovering British colonial masters breathing hell-fire and brimstone.

It is not a tall imagination that diviners sought the abominable challenge to break the political impasse that put their longtime set social order to test. �Homosexuality is abhorred among the Baganda and unheard-of in most African communities. It proved to shake the Christian belief at its very core, and so the pages were caught between a rock and a hard place.� Tenywa declared.

Politics and religious gig-saw puzzles always have a way to find themselves surrounding spiritual martyrdom mysteries.

Cecilia Schelling from rural Slovakia in central Europe is one of the modern martyrs in the Catholic Church. Later to be known as Sister Zdenka (pronounced Zenka), she was of a typical folk caught in the battles between Russian communists and the Christian faith. Her resistance against the communist party by helping priests to escape led to her torture and eventual death. Pope John II beatified Sr. Zdenka on 14th September 2003.

The Uganda Martyrs beatified in 1969 have now turned into a miracle that continues to grow.

On June the 3rd every year, the little known crossroad to Namugongo turns into a sea of pilgrims. The number of people traveling from across Africa continues to rise with delegations from the Sudan, the Congo region and others walking from Kenya for weeks to be a part of martyrdom.

An evergreen, dense equatorial-forest canopy covers the martyrs shrine with calmness as if things are forever to remain the same. Even the battling spirits seem to cool off with calm waters of the manmade lake formally used by executioners for cleansing.

And in the neighborhood, atop the hill of the astounding faith, young souls blossom at a memorial school, Uganda Martyrs Namugongo. They form yet another generation that will nurture the myths and strengthen the Christian faith.

By Pius Mwinganisa
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First published: March 3, 2005
Pius Mwinganisa is a writer writing for UGPulse from Kampala, Uganda.