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What is martyrdom today?


By msgr. lawrence kanyike

Leaders who pursue their self-interest cannot be martyrs even when persecuted

The most valuable gift we all have is life and the entirety of our existence is centered on the preservation of this gift and without it existence is impossible. It is a general belief that everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.

However, this gift we all cherish is filled with the threat of death which we are all unable to prevent.  Death is always a threat to life and postponement of it is the daily pre-occupation of every human being and when it strikes, we call it untimely forgetting that whatever is born is old enough to die.

The transience of life and our inability to prevent death may render life meaningless and demands courage to live. Where is the source of this courage? For us who are religious, the answer is the affirmation of the ground of life we call God, the highest and ultimate good more valuable than life itself.

The one who testifies or witnesses to that ultimate good to the point of shedding his blood is a Martyr. That one and only that one should be called a Martyr. Unfortunately, the word Martyr has been loosely used for anyone who appears to be persecuted for whatever motive.

Very few times do we ask, is that individual promoting his own personal ambition or is he really sacrificing his life for the ultimate truth so that he is a true witness to that truth! If he takes that truth as more valuable than life and is willing to sacrifice his life for it, he qualifies to be a martyr.

If that individual pursues a political line for the benefit of others and believes that pursuing that line is more valuable than life itself, that individual qualifies to be a political martyr.

In Christianity, it is our faith that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity in Uganda. These our fellow countrymen who gave up their life rather than give up the truth of their faith have inspired countless men and women to subscribe to the Christian faith and make it the point of reference for their life decisions.

For those who believe there is no need for an explanation for the hundreds of thousands who gather at Namugongo every June.3; and for those without faith, there is no explanation possible!

Do we need Martyrs today? Our African continent and particularly Uganda is infected with a chronic disease of selfish leaders who think more about themselves and less about those they lead.

We therefore need people with clear consciences, people who are ready to testify to the truth and not only testify but also ready to die for it. Then this will destroy the selfishness which has become the second name for our politicians and the root cause of all miseries our people are subjected to.

A lot of blood has been shed under the guise of fighting for freedom and those who die in the process are quickly labeled as Martyrs only later to discover that they were fighting for political power. These are far from being martyrs.

They may be politically persecuted and end up dying but their initial purpose was to gain political power. We need people like Mandela and Gandhi who openly exhibited their dedication to be servants of the truth and who were ready to die for it. Only when we get such people will Africa be free of dictatorship.


Monsignor Lawrence Kanyike is the chaplain of Makerere university, Kampala.

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