POPE FRANCIS has reiterated his conviction that an “ecumenism of blood” is drawing Anglicans and Roman Catholics to ever closer unity.
The Pope made his remarks after a visit to the Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines to the martyrs of Uganda, at Namugongo, during a five-day visit to Africa last week.
During a mass outside the RC shrine, the Pope said that the witness of the 23 Anglican and 22 Roman Catholic martyrs, who were burned together at the site on 3 June 1886, after they refused to abjure their faith, had “truly gone to the end of the earth”.
He went on: “We remember . . . the Anglican martyrs whose deaths for Christ testify to the ecumenism of blood. . . Like the Apostles and the Uganda martyrs before us, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit to become missionary disciples called to go forth and bring the gospel to all. But we do not need to travel to be missionary disciples.”
A report by the Anglican Communion News Service said that during a tour of the Uganda Martyrs Museum with the Primate of the Church of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali, the Pope appeared visibly moved. When they paused together at the pit where the martyrs were burned, the Pope told the Archbishop: “This is ecumenism.”
Afterwards, Archbishop Ntagali said: “The Roman Catholic martyrs died for the same Jesus Christ as the Anglican martyrs. Together, they suffered; together, they sacrificed; together, they sang. Together, their blood has been the seed of the Church in Uganda.”
The three-year persecution had begun with the murder of James Hannington, the Anglican Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, who tried to reach Buganda across Masai lands closed to white people.
Some Christians, such as St Joseph Mkasa, had then angered King Mwanga II of Buganda by condemning the murder of Bishop Hannington.
The comments made by Pope Francis represent the third instance this year when he has spoken of the ecumenical value of martyrdoms.
Besides Uganda, the Pope, who is 78, also visited Kenya for three days, and the Central African Republic.
He was welcomed in Kenya by the Archbishop of Kenya, Dr Eliud Wabukala, who told him that Africa was “at a spiritual crossroads”, where Christians were under threat from “ideological colonialism”.
The Pope toured the slums of Kangemi, in Nairobi, and warned Kenyans against corruption, which he described as “the path to death”. He later visited a paediatric hospital in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, and also a camp for people internally displaced by sectarian violence.
He also visited a mosque in the city, where he said that Muslims and Christians were “brothers and sisters” who “must say no to hatred, to revenge, and to violence — particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself”.
On the return flight to Rome, the Pope did not give a direct answer to a question on the use of condoms to halt the spread of AIDS. But he condemned war and religious extremism, and said that the Roman Catholic Church “must ask forgiveness” for such atrocities as the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of French Protestant Huguenots in Paris in 1572.