[Anglican Communion News Service] Pope Francis has made a visit to the Anglican shrine to the Ugandan Martyrs in Namugongo, and spoke of the “ecumenism of blood”.
The Pope looked visibly pained and shocked as Archbishop 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 Catholic shrine, Pope Francis spoke of the sacrifice of the 45 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.
“The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift which is meant to be shared. It unites us to one another as believers and living members of Christ’s mystical Body. We do not receive the gift of the Spirit for ourselves alone, but to build up one another in faith, hope and love.”
He said that 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.
“Like the Apostles and the Uganda martyrs before us, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit to become missionary disciples called to go forth and bring the Gospel to all. At times this may take us to the end of the earth, as missionaries to faraway lands.
This is essential to the spread of God’s Kingdom, and I ask always for your generous response to this need. But we do not need to travel to be missionary disciples. In fact, we need only to open our eyes and see the needs in our homes and our local communities to realize how many opportunities await us.
“Here too the Uganda martyrs show us the way. Their faith sought the good of all people, including the very King who condemned them for their Christian beliefs. Their response was to meet hatred with love, and thus to radiate the splendour of the Gospel. They did not simply tell the King what the Gospel does not allow, but showed through their lives what saying ‘yes’ to Jesus really means. It means mercy and purity of heart, being meek and poor in spirit, and thirsting for righteousness in the hope of an eternal reward.”
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 twenty-three Anglicans and twenty-two Roman Catholic converts to Christianity were brutally martyred on 3rd June 1886. “This is ecumenism,” Pope Francis told Archbishop Stanley.
“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.”
It is a message that echoed Pope Francis’ words in July this year 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.”
Last week, the same message was repeated by the Preacher to the Papal Household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, in a sermon at Westminster Abbey ahead of the Church of England’s General Synod: “In many parts of the world people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians,” he said. “In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God.”
Alluding to a traditional African proverb, Archbishop Stanley 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.”
During the Pope’s brief visit to the Anglican Martyrs’ Shrine, he also emphasised the importance of prayer by kneeling at the torture tree and offering a personal prayer.
When he emerged from his private tour of the museum, he was welcomed by a very large, enthusiastic, and ululating crowd. He responded by inviting everyone to pray The Lord’s Prayer together.
The assembled congregation then received a double apostolic blessing with Pope Francis and Archbishop Stanley together conferring on everyone the Blessing of God Almighty: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
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 the 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 2nd August 1969; five years earlier, in 1964, he had canonized the Roman Catholic martyrs. Pope John Paul II visited on 7th March 1993.