Archbishop Janani Luwum, a martyr of hope and healing

President Idi Amin (left) greets Archbishop Janani Luwum in the 1970s.  Luwum was the first sitting archbishop in the Anglican communion martyred in office in 400 years.  PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Thus, Luwum became recognised as a 20th century Anglican Christian martyr of the entire Anglican communion.
  • He was the first sitting archbishop in the Anglican communion martyred in office in 400 years.

The Most Rev Janani Luwum, then sitting Archbishop of the Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire, was martyred in Kampala by president Idi Amin’s regime on February 16, 1977.
The following year in July, Canterbury Cathedral designated its East Chapel “The Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Times.”

“His killing had a great effect on us Anglicans,” recalls former Canterbury Canon,” who preached the Sunday following the assassination…”
“Janani Luwum was an archbishop killed by a king. I felt the stones of Canterbury shuddered in sympathy,” he continued.

On July 9, 1998, Westminster Abbey, London, hoisted the statue of Luwum Maleng among 10 statues of 20th Century Martyrs, including the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr,  an African-American [civil rights activist], and Manche Masemola, a South African virgin martyr--now the Black/Afro-Martyrs of Westminster Abbey.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, graced the occasion.

Thus, Luwum became recognised as a 20th century Anglican Christian martyr of the entire Anglican communion.
He was the first sitting archbishop in the Anglican communion martyred in office in 400 years.

That is, since the 16th century when Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, and in the 17th Century when William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, were martyred in office.   
Martyr of hope for northern Uganda
Westminster Abbey’s recognition of Luwum was a prophetic hope for Northern Uganda, especially the Acholi/Central Luo, his ethnic community.
For 1998 was a period of despair at the height of the 20-year (1986-2006) LRA civil war! Hence Luwum’s recognition was like “the balm of Gilead”.    
“Luwum is the conjunction in whom power has stooped to touch the poor, and is thereby humanised to serve the weak. Unveiling and hoisting up his statue at Westminster Abbey [July 1998] enables visitors to the Abbey to take a fresh look at the life and witness of Luwum, African Anglicanism’s gift to the world.

“As the martyr son of Acholi from northern Uganda—the despised, underdeveloped and war ravaged backwaters of a former colony—whose memory is now exalted in the ‘coronation cathedral’ of the empire on which once the sun never set; Janani Luwum symbolises the demystification of Anglicanism’s power and privilege to show that Anglicanism is at its best when, in Christ, male and female, Jew and Gentile, black and white, Hutu and Tutsi, prince and peasant, and rich and poor are accepted and altogether exalted…”  

Luwum is also the martyr of healing for his people. He was like Polycarp, the Blessed martyred Bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir City, Turkey) of the New Testament Church.  When asked to revile Christ to be spared from martyrdom, Bishop Polycarp replied: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”   

A statue of Archbishop Janani Luwum at Westminster Abbey, London, that was hoisted in 1998. PHOTO | COURTESY

Likewise, Luwum did not flee even when given the opportunity of exile in Britain. Former Church Missionary Society  (CMS) general secretary Simon Barrington-Ward wrote:
“Towards the end of 1976, not long before Amin’s killing of Janani, I sat with him eating supper, at a table on the veranda, at a vital bishops’ gathering in Namirembe…He told me that he felt that he would not last long and that a number of Amin’s agents were out to kill him. I suggested that perhaps CMS might draw him out of the country for a visit to Britain. He looked at me gently and said firmly,  ‘Eight and twenty years ago, the Lord did a work in my heart, and he has been doing that same work every day since. I would be untrue to Him if I left my people now.’ As he said this, I could truly say that his face shone.….”
Archbishop Luwum showed concern for “all his people” of the Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire (DRC) as in his last published words:   
“Numerically, we have about 3,000,000 or so church members in Uganda and about another 500,000 members in the neighbouring countries of Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi… the francophone Province should come into being during or after 1977. After this, we must keep the bond, built up through the years for the spiritual and material encouragement of all our people in each region…”   
Therefore, pilgrims from all over Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo are justified to commemorate their common martyr every February 16 at Wii Gweng, Mucwini.  We can be encouraged by the Christians of Smyrna above, when they were accused of abandoning the worship of Christ for worship of Polycarp the Blessed:  

“It is to Him, as the Son of God, that we give our adoration; while to the martyrs, as disciples and imitators of the Lord, we give the love they have earned by their matchless devotion to their King and Teacher… So, after all, we did gather up his bones--more precious to us than jewels and finer than pure gold--and we laid them to rest in a spot suitable for the purpose. There we shall assemble, as occasion allows, with glad rejoicings; and with the Lord’s permission we shall celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom...”

“Celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom…” meant lifting up Christ the Lord, the proto-Martyr. Celebration of the birthday of Luwum’s martyrdom by Africa’s “wounded” Great Lakes Region, too, will lift up Jesus Christ who promised: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32.

St Janani Luwum Matryrs Shrine
By lifting up Jesus in commemoration of Luwum, people of the “wounded” Great Lakes Region will draw closer to one another.  This will bring healing and reconciliation, and will empower the Provinces of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo (DRC).

Together with Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, London, etc.; they will all join hands to construct a befitting St Janani Luwum’s Martyrs Shrine in Wii Gweng, Mucwini.

By George Piwang-Jalobo. The writer is an Anglican theologian from Pakwach Town Parish, Jonam Archdeaconry Nebbi Diocese