For those of us who think that the faith and zeal of the early Christians died out as the Church grew more safe and powerful through the centuries, the martyrs of Uganda are a reminder that persecution of Christians continues in modern times, even to the present day.

The Society of Missionaries of Africa (known as the White Fathers) had only been in Uganda for 6 years and yet they had built up a community of converts whose faith would outshine their own. The earliest converts were soon instructing and leading new converts that the White Fathers couldn’t reach. Many of these converts lived and taught at King Mwanga’s court.

King Mwanga was a violent ruler and pedophile who forced himself on the young boys and men who served him as pages and attendants. The Christians at Mwanga’s court who tried to protect the pages from King Mwanga.

The leader of the small community of 200 Christians, was the chief steward of Mwanga’s court, a twenty-five-year-old Catholic named Joseph Mkasa (or Mukasa).

When Mwanga killed a Protestant missionary and his companions, Joseph Mkasa confronted Mwanga and condemned his action. Mwanga had always liked Joseph but when Joseph dared to demand that Mwanga change his lifestyle, Mwanga forgot their long friendship. After striking Joseph with a spear, Mwanga ordered him killed. When the executioners tried to tie Joseph’s hands, he told them, “A Christian who gives his life for God is not afraid to die.” He forgave Mwanga with all his heart but made one final plea for his repentance before he was beheaded and then burned on November 15, 1885.

Charles Lwanga took over the instruction and leadership of the Christian community at court — and the charge of keeping the young boys and men out of Mwanga’s hands. Perhaps Joseph’s plea for repentance had had some affect on Mwanga because the persecution died down for six months.

Read more at Catholic.org.