Saturday, October 20, 2012

Okelo and Irwa

Today in many places is the memorial for Bl. Daudi Okelo and Bl. Jildo Irwa, an interesting pair of Ugandan saints from the beginning of the twentieth century. (Okelo and Irwa were their pre-confirmation names; Daudi and Jildo were the names they took at confirmation.) Shortly after he had been confirmed, Daudi enrolled to be a catechist. When the catechist of Paimol had died, Daudi volunteered to take his place. There was some reluctance to send the young man, since it was a long road through bad country, but a catechist was definitely needed and Daudi insisted that he could do it, so it was decided that they would go (although with an escort in case of raiders). Jildo, an intelligent young man with a merry temperament, went with him as his assistant.

Every morning Daudi would beat the drum to call people to prayer, and would teach them the Words of the Morning, the next part of the catechism they were to learn, often turning the question and answer into a sort of sing-song call and response. Jildo would gather together the children and play games with them. Later in the day, Daudi would visit villages in the area and Jildo would often serve as secretary the village chief.

Things took a turn for the worse; relations between the Ugandans and the British were sometimes quite tense, and as Christianity was seen as a British religion, when the British would handle things too heavily retaliation was often taken out on the more easily reached Ugandan Christians. So it happened, and after the British District Commissioner made an unpopular decision, a group of people got together and set out to kill Daudi. A village elder who got wind of it tried to stop them, insisting that they were guests, but Daudi, afraid that the elder might be hurt, begged him not to involve himself. The group pushed their way inside the place Daudi and Jildo were staying and demanded that they give up catechizing, and when they refused, they were seized and dragged outside, where they were killed with spears.

Daudi of Payira was seventeen or eighteen years old, and young Jildo was about fourteen. It is said that the place where they died was given the name Wi Polo, 'in heaven', because those were the words of the Lord's Prayer that Daudi had been teaching on at the time.

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