Martyrs’ Day is a national public holiday in Uganda on June 3rd.
The day commemorates the 45 martyrs, both Catholic and Anglican, who were killed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II, then King of Buganda between 1885 and 1887 for not denouncing their faith
From the start of his reign in 1884, King Mwanga had viewed foreign missionaries as the greatest threat to his kingdom and power base. He expelled missionaries and threatened converts to renounce their new faith or face execution. In total, 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts to Christianity were executed between January 31st 1885 and January 27th 1887. On June 3rd 1886, 32 young men were burned to death at Namugongo for their refusal to renounce Christianity. They were a combination of Anglican and Catholic converts.
Mwanga’s actions led to a British backed revolution which overthrew the King in 1888. Mwanga negotiated with the British and in exchange for handing over some of his sovereignty to the British East Africa Company, the British helped reinstate Mwanga to the throne in 1889. After a further spate of double-crossing, he was finally deposed in 1897. While in exile he was converted to an Anglican. There are Catholic and Anglian shrines to the Martyrs’ close to each other in Namugongo. Each year Martyrs Day attracts millions of pilgrims to the area with many coming from beyond Uganda.
The Catholic Church beatified the 22 Catholic martyrs in 1920 and canonized them as Saints of the universal Church in 1964. In 2015, Pope Francis visited Namugongo, where he celebrated Holy Mass. Before the Mass, Pope Francis paid homage to the Anglican martyrs at the Anglican shrine. For the past 2 years, thios day was not physically celebrated due to the outbreak of the corona virus but this year the celebrations came back bigger and better!