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10.06.2009 International


By Abbey.K.Semuwemba
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Dear editor,

I have been bombarded with various emails regarding the issue of the Namugongo martyrs after its publication last week and I think I need to put more beef on this issue to help people make up their minds. It is generally acceptable that a martyr is a person who sacrifices his or her life or their personal freedom in order to further a cause or belief for many. This cause or belief may be political, cultural or religious. Some of the historical political martyrs include the Manouchian Group (a group of foreign communists, heroes and martyrs of the Resistance in France 1940-44) and probably even recently Mr.Tom Jjulunga if what is being rumoured about him dying as a result of his affiliation with the opposition party, FDC, is true. If we all agree that martyrdom is not limited to Christianity, then it would not be appropriate for: Muslims or other religious factions to have a bank holiday for those who die for their faith or for FDC to come to power and have a 'Jjulunga' national holiday.

All I'm saying is that the word 'martyrdom' is used biasely by some people to fit their situations. There is no difference between Muslims that have died for their religion and the Christians that sacrificed their lives at Namugongo (because their religion conflicted with the demands of the then Kabaka of Buganda) since all religions encourage martyrdom or 'rebelling' to be precise. So, can we say that people who say 'no' to the laws of the land because of their religion qualify to be named 'martyrs' in the real sense of the word and they need a national holiday in case anything like death happens to them? What is again more disturbing is how these Baganda natives who converted to Christianity ended up dying on the same fire for the cause of Christ in the midst of the Christian factions of Buganda. The church was divided at the time and it needed these people more alive than dead at the time. Before these 'martyrs' were killed, some people working under Kabaka Mwanga offered them a chance to run away but these guys decided not to -basically because they wanted to die for Christ.

Furthermore, a total of 32 baganda including the leader of the Christian 'rebels' called Charles Lwanga were killed- 13 of those were Catholics, 9 were protestants and 10 were unbelievers (who had been awaiting execution for non-religious crimes) but even the non-believers killed the day are counted as martyrs. In addition, historically, Protestants and Catholics refused to recognise each other as 'martyrs'. So why was it so important for these two religious sects to agree on the title 'martyr' at that moment in time? Don't you think that this happened as a result of the fact that this tragedy had happened to both of them at the same time and therefore, they both saw it as convenient to grant 'martyrdom' to the Namugongo 'political rebels'. Don't you think that this was also done as an act to forge unity between the Christians and protestant rather than the self belief to grant 'martyrdom' to the namugongo 'political rebels'?

The important issue at stake here is that Catholics and Protestants did not recognise each other as martyrs. In the 16th century, both protestants and Catholics affirmed that it was not the punishment, but the cause that made one a martyr. Could Protestants killed for faith be called 'martyrs'? The Catholics answered,' No''. On the other side, could Catholics killed for faith be called 'martyrs'? The Protestants said,' No'. An example is when Puritan minister Giles Wigginton told catholic Margaret Clitherow, on trial for treason, that she was deceived if she thought that dying for catholic faith counted as martyrdom. What makes it worse is that even protestants did not affirm other protestants as martyrs as evidenced during the time of Luther. Luther thought the deaths of Zwingli's followers should not be compared to the 'holy martyrs' and condemned people for making such a comparison.

Given the above history and facts how can anyone attempt to call the protestant and Catholic victims at Namugongo to be 'martyrs'? It was only during the reign of pope John Paul 11,particulary in 2001, when in Ukraine, that he tried to address this issue of division in opinion between Catholics and protestants- in regard to 'martyrs', when he gave an address to bless 27 Greek catholic martyrs. The wise pope recognised both sides as 'joint' martyrs. He was doing the same thing that was done at Namugongo: to forge unity between the two sects (Catholics and protestants). The pope knew the use of 'Unity' in everything human beings want do and that's why some of us keep pushing for the unity or cooperation among opposition political parties before 2011. Like the baganda say:'agali awamu gegaluma enyama'.

If we really still want to remember these political rebels as 'martyrs', let us do what Robert Royal did by publishing a remarkable new book in 2000 called The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive World History, instead of people flocking to Namugongo every year. Much of Royal's research is new. The project began with a sentence in one of Pope John Paul II's encyclicals. He said that the martyrs of our century "should not be forgotten." A group of parishioners at Saint Aloysius Parish in New Canaan, Conn, took the words seriously, and began to accumulate materials. The word spread and materials started coming in from around the world. What began as a simple list became an amazing archive. With the help of his brother who is a priest, Royal began the work of putting the results in book form.

God bless you!

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