Ugandan Martyrs to Be Beatified This Sunday

Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa Were Teen-age Catechists

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 18, 2002 ( The Vatican released details about the lives of the Ugandan catechists and martyrs Daudi Okelo (circa 1902-1918) and Jildo Irwa (circa 1906-1918), who will be beatified Sunday by John Paul II.

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The martyrs Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa were two young catechists. They belonged to the Acholi tribe, a subdivision of the large Lwo group whose members even today live mostly in the north of Uganda. They lived and were martyred in the years immediately following the foundation of the mission of Kitgum by the Comboni Missionaries in 1915.

Daudi Okelo

Daudi Okelo was born around 1902 in Ogom-Payira, a village on the Gulu-Kitgum road. The son of pagans, he attended the instruction to receive baptism. Baptized by Father Cesare Gambaretto on June 1, 1916, Daudi received first Communion on the same day and was confirmed on Oct. 15, 1916. After completing his formation, Daudi accepted to be enrolled as a catechist.

At the start of 1917, Antonio, the catechist in charge of Paimol, died. Daudi went to Father Gambaretto, then superior at the mission of Kitgum, offering to take Antonio’s place. Daudi’s appointment came toward the end of that year.

The young Jildo Irwa was to go with him as his assistant. Before they set off, Father Gambaretto warned them of the difficulties of their work, such as the long traveling distance and the frequent infighting among the local people. Violence was also instigated by gangs of raiders and traders of slaves and gold, who sporadically visited the area.

To all this Daudi reportedly answered: «I am not afraid to die. Jesus, too, died for us!»

Around November or December 1917, with Father Gambaretto’s blessing, Boniface, the head catechist of Kitgum, accompanied Daudi and Jildo to Paimol. Here Daudi immediately began his work by gathering children willing to take religious instruction. At dawn he beat the drum to call his catechumens for morning prayers.

Daudi taught the children prayers and the catechism, often repeating the lessons in a singsong way, to make it easier to memorize them. He also visited nearby villages.

At sunset, Daudi gave the signal for common prayer and the rosary, always closing with a song to Our Lady. On Sunday, he held a longer prayer service, often enlivened by the presence of local catechumens and catechists.

Daudi of Payira is described as young man of peaceful and shy character, diligent in his duties as a catechist. He never got involved in tribal or political disputes.

Because of a decision taken by a district commissioner, serious tension arose in the area. Raiders, Muslim elements, and witch doctors took advantage of the violent situation to get rid of the new religion brought by Daudi.

During the weekend of Oct. 18-20, 1918, five people headed for the hut where Daudi and Jildo were staying, bent on killing them. A village elder confronted the intruders, warning them not to attack the catechists, as they were his guests.

Daudi appeared at the door of his hut and entreated the elder not to get involved. The intruders entered Daudi’s hut and demanded that he give up teaching catechism. Realizing that Daudi was not giving in to their threats, they dragged him outside, pushed him to the ground, and stabbed him to death with their spears.

His body was left unburied. A few days later some people tied a rope around his neck and dragged his body over an empty termite hill. The mortal remains, collected in February 1926, were later placed in the mission church of Kitgum, at the foot of the altar of the Sacred Heart.

Jildo Irwa

Jildo Irwa was born around 1906 in the village of Bar-Kitoba, northwest of Kitgum. His pagan parents — mother Ato and father Okeny — later became Christians. He was baptized by Father Gambaretto on June 6, 1916. On the same day he received his first Communion and was confirmed on Oct. 15, 1916.

Father Gambaretto wrote about him: «Jildo was much younger than Daudi. Of lively and gentle nature, like many Acholi youngsters, he was quite intelligent and occasionally acted as secretary to the vice chief Ogal who had given hospitality in Paimol. He was of great help to Daudi in gathering the children for the instruction with his gentle way and infantile insistence. He knew also how to entertain them with innocent village games and noisy and merry meetings. He had recently received baptism, whose grace he preserved in his heart and let it transpire by his charming behavior.»

He offered to go with Daudi to Paimol as an assistant catechist. On the morning of their martyrdom, Daudi warned him about a possible cruel death.

«Why should we be afraid?» Jildo answered. «We have done nothing wrong to anyone; we are here only because Father Cesare sent us to teach the word of God. Do not fear!»

He repeated the same words to those who were urging him to leave the locale and give up his catechetical duties.

«We have done nothing wrong,» he said in tears to his attackers. «For the same reason you killed Daudi you must also kill me, because together we came here and together we have been teaching God’s word.»

At that point, somebody grabbed him, pushed him outside the hut and pierced him through with a spear. Another attacker struck him in the head with a knife.

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