St. Charles Lwanga was
a servant of the king of Uganda
in Africa in the late 19th Century. This king,
Mwanga, was a violent pedophile and had already murdered his chief page, the Christian, Joseph Mukasa. Joseph had hidden the younger pages from the king and criticized him for the murder of a Protestant missionary. Inspired by the example of Joseph’s martyrdom, many Ugandans received baptism,
including Charles, who was Joseph’s successor as chief page. Mwanga murdered
a Christian catechist with a spear thrust and then demanded that all the Christians in his court identify themselves. In anticipation of the king’s order, Charles had baptized those who were still
receiving instruction. He was the first to identify himself as a Christian and
was joined by many others, including the son of the king’s executioner, one of the king’s bodyguards, and the
steward of his banana plantations. Some of the Christians were killed with spears
or machetes, while most were taken to different parts of the country to be burned to death.
St. Charles was one of the last to receive the crown of martyrdom in this
fashion. Where once stood the palace of the murderous king Mwanga, there is now
a cathedral of Our Lady, and 11 million of Uganda’s
17.5 million people are Christians.
The north coast of Africa was Christianized from Apostolic times,
as this was part of the Roman empire. The principal population center was Egypt, evangelized by St. Mark. St.
Philip, by baptizing a servant of the queen of Ethiopia, set in motion the conversion of that kingdom, which lay outside of
Roman control. In the years following the death of Mohammed, Christian North Africa was conquered by the Moslems.
The second period of Christian missionary activity in Africa,
was confined principally to sub-Saharan Africa.
Early activity dates back to the fifteenth century, especially by the Portuguese. Their exploration of West Africa included
the "gold coast", of which present day Ghana is part. But the good example of Christian missionaries was frequently
hampered by the slave trade and by colonialism. The religious and political aims of colonial powers often inhibited missionary
activity and frequently involved exploitation of lands and people. In this period, which lasted until the end of World War
II, the Catholic Church was able to gain some foothold in almost all parts of Africa. Even Mediterranean
Africa, so strongly Muslim, saw some missionary activity with the growth of Spanish, French and British influence in this
The third period (after World War II) was marked by the rapid development
of the Church in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The first two bishops native of this area were ordained
in 1939. By the 1950s, this was a common phenomenon; at present nearly all diocesan sees are occupied by native bishops. Despite
the social and political unrest that sometimes accompanied the independence movement, the linking of the Church in the minds
of some with the former colonial powers and some hindrance or even persecution of the Church, she flourished. In some countries
the number of Catholics has doubled since World War II and in some countries about half the population is Catholic. In some
places, formerly dominated by the Dutch or British (e.g., South Africa
or Zimbabwe — formerly Rhodesia),
the Catholic percentage is considerably lower. The Church in Mediterranean Africa, however, has not fared as well. With the
end of the colonial era, most Catholics (Europeans and their sympathizers) left and the new governments frequently adopted
a militantly Muslim stance.