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St. Charles Lwanga is a saint of purity for our time and our culture.
The martyr whose, whose memorial is celebrated June 3, was a lead servant in the house of King Mwanga in Uganda in the 1880s. The sexually voracious king kept a household of boys and young men who were expected to give in to his demands. This was not an unusual or unthinkable abuse in the culture there; in fact, it was the objections of Christianity that were counter-cultural.
When one of the king’s servants became Christian and complained about the king’s behavior, the king had him beheaded.
Nonetheless, another servant — Charles Lwanga — bravely stood against the culture of his time and shielded 21 boys and young men from the king’s advances. The king had them imprisoned with Lwanga and eventually killed, but not before Charles had instructed the boys in the faith.
When Pope Francis spoke to young people in Uganda in 2015, he told them that they confront a new culture of impurity.
It was their duty, he said, to face “the fear of being different, of going against the grain in a society which puts increasing pressure on us to embrace models of gratification and consumption alien to the deepest values of African culture.”
If they were ever tempted to use pornography, he told them, remember St. Charles Lwanga.
“Think about it! What would the Uganda martyrs say about the misuse of our modern means of communication, where young people are exposed to images and distorted views of sexuality that degrade human dignity, leading to sadness and emptiness?” he asked.
“Do not be afraid to let the light of your faith shine in your families, your schools and your places of work,” he said.
Young people who want to be heroic should follow Charles’ example. When he canonized the 22 martyrs, Pope Paul VI said that these young men were nowe in the pantheon of truly great African saints.
“Who could foresee,” the Pope asked, “that with the great historical figures of African martyrs and confessors like Cyprian, Felicity and Perpetua and the outstanding Augustine, we should one day list the beloved names of Charles Lwanga, Matthias Mulumba Kalemba and their 20 companions?”
Preserving and defending purity in a culture that rejects it is difficult and costly — but it is also heroic. And it is what faith requires of Catholics in the United States of America today.
Image: Rachel Strohm, Flickr.