I’ve heard the story of the Ugandan martyrs who all died for their faith. Why is Charles Lwanga particularly identified, though?

The Society of Missionaries of Africa began preaching in Buganda in the late 1870s. Their stay would be brief, but long enough to attract a young Charles Lwanga, a pagan up to then. When King Mwanga II ascended the throne in 1884, Lwanga joined the royal court as a page. Well-liked, he quickly rose the ranks to become one of the chief pages.

The king began to view Christianity as a political threat. The missionaries had redeemed a few too many slaves. And when several young pages and members of his harem (who had converted) started resisting his sexual advances, King Mwanga thought it had gone too far! So, in 1885, he decided to whip these new converts into line.

Several Anglican missionaries, including a bishop, were massacred in October 1885. When the head of the pages and a Catholic convert, Joseph Mukasa, reproached the king for this, he, too, was beheaded, leaving Charles Lwanga in charge of religious instruction for the new converts in the king’s court. The king later gave his pages an ultimatum: renounce their faith or face execution. Charles Lwanga and 25 others — 16 Catholic and 10 Anglican in all — chose the latter. They were sentenced to death, marched to Namugongo, and confined for a week. Being the leader, Charles Lwanga was burned on a separate pyre from the rest of his fellow Ugandan Martyrs, and was defiant to the last breath.

from Zubair Simonson, a freelance writer in New York City who grew up in North Carolina. Zubair graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in political science. Only recently confirmed in the Catholic Church, he is a candidate with the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO).