Monday, June 3, 2019

"Martyrs' Day" in the New "Digital" Africa

The Shrine of the Uganda martyrs
Once again Catholics in Uganda have commemorated their "ancestors in faith" - the early converts who were martyred in the 1880s by Kabaka (King) Mwanga.

This has been a special day for me for years, thanks in part to Ugandan friends who witnessed to the beautiful and personal vitality of the martyrs' legacy for their own Catholic Christian identity.

June 3 is the anniversary of the burning-to-death of Saint Charles Lwanga and his fellow pages in 1886. They are grouped with others of the same period, so that 22 in all are honored in today's Catholic Church feast. Each one has an awesome story that was carefully recorded from eyewitness testimony for the beatification proceedings in the 1920s. They are the heroes of the new Catholic churches and peoples of East Africa who have emerged within the past 150 years.

Every year, immense crowds of pilgrims arrive at the Shrine of Namugongo near Kampala, many traveling on foot from distant places throughout the region.

I have seen pictures from this event in recent years on internet sites. This year, however, I discovered something "new" - or at least "new to me" - that brought the pilgrimage closer than ever: a broadcast by a Uganda news television station of the liturgy and other observances of the day was live streamed on the station's new internationally accessible 24 hour "live" YouTube channel.

Though I didn't actually see it live, the recording of the stream was still available this evening.

NewsTV: turning on Africa for the world
During this past decade, sub-Saharan Africa has grown remarkably in its access to mobile digital technology, thanks in part to the much noted intensive Chinese investment on the continent. What this may herald for the future is hard to predict, except that it will change Africa in many ways as the communications revolution continues and as the growth of China's global influence continues.

These are two important trends to watch in the coming decades of the 21st century, I think.

One positive and immediate outcome, however, is the possibility to watch a young church celebrate its faith. I don't expect I'll ever get to travel as a pilgrim to Namugongo. But now (at least "virtually") Namugongo can come to me.

We are all one in Christ's Body, with our many diverse cultures resonating lIke a great symphony. I know this. But it is always surprising - and wonderful - to find that living unity expressed through multimedia technology. It is a cause for joy.

The icon of the 22 Uganda martyrs from their 1964 canonization