St. Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe
In 1879, a group of Catholic missionary priests arrived in Kampala, the capital of Buganda (modern-day Uganda). One of the first converts they made was Balikuddembe, a tall, athletic and intelligent 19-year-old serving as a page in the royal court.
Balikuddembe became a catechumen less than a year after the missionaries’ arrival. Two years later, in 1882, he was baptized, taking the name Joseph. Balikuddembe’s time with the missionaries, however, was short-lived. That fall, it became unsafe for them to remain in Kampala, and they temporarily resettled their mission on the opposite side of Lake Victoria, leaving Balikuddembe in charge of the Christian community in the capital.
For two years, all was well. Then, King Mutesa I died, and the kingdom passed to his son Mutesa II, who continued to employ Balikuddembe at court. Mutesa II even elevated him to majordomo, putting the young Catholic in charge of both the royal household and his fellow pages. The new king also gave Balikuddembe permission to correct him if he fell into error.
Balikuddembe did just that a few months later, opposing Mutesa when he wanted to kill an Anglican convert. The king listened to him and stopped the execution. Soon, however, Balikuddembe began speaking up more frequently. The king was abusing his position, attempting to force young male pages to grant him sexual favors. Balikuddembe protected the pages and admonished the king. Then, in 1885, shortly after the Catholic missionaries returned to court, Balikuddembe learned the king was plotting to kill another Anglican. Again, he spoke up. This time, the king didn’t listen.
Not long afterward, the king summoned Balikuddembe and gave him a choice: keep his faith to himself or die. Balikuddembe chose death. He was beheaded, then burned on a pyre.
His successor at court, Charles Lawanga, continued what Balikuddembe began and met a similar fate. Along with 20 other Ugandan martyrs, both were canonized in 1964.
Clothing the Naked
St. Martin of Tours
Christianity had just emerged from the catacombs when St. Martin of Tours was born in 316 in (or near) modern day Hungary. Although many Roman citizens were converting to the Christian faith, that number did not include St. Martin’s parents, who both held to the old pagan practices. Yet, somehow, Martin came to believe, and at the age of 10, went knocking on the door of the local priest, asking to become a Christian.
The sacraments weren’t quickly dispensed in the early days of the Church, so five years later, when Martin was conscripted into the army, he was still only a catechumen. Martin didn’t want to fight; he wanted to become a monk, but that didn’t matter to the authorities.
They assigned him to a cavalry unit that protected the emperor, and he quickly rose through the ranks, becoming an officer stationed in Gaul (modern day France).
One winter’s day, while on duty in Amiens, Martin noticed a beggar, standing near the city gates. Visibly hungry and exhausted, the beggar’s clothes were so threadbare that he was practically naked. At that moment, Martin didn’t hesitate. He took off his warm cloak and, with his sword, cut it in two. He then threw the better half around the beggar’s shoulders, wrapping himself in what remained.
Later that night, Jesus, wearing the cloak Martin gave to the beggar, appeared to him in a dream.
“See!” Jesus said to the saints surrounding him. “This is the mantle that Martin, yet a catechumen, gave me.”
In the years that followed, Martin became a monk, than a bishop. He combated Arians, healed the sick and even, it’s said, raised the dead. But history remembers him, first and foremost, for clothing Christ in the form of the naked beggar.