On 6 January 1948 a young school teacher, Janani Luwum, was converted to the charismatic Christianity of the East African Revival, in his own village in Acholiland, Uganda. At once he turned evangelist, warning against the dangers of drink and tobacco, and, in the eyes of local authorities, disturbing the peace.
But Luwum was undeterred by official censure. He was determined to confront all who needed, in his eyes, to change their ways before God.
In January 1949 Luwum went to a theological college at Buwalasi, in eastern Uganda. A year later he came back a catechist. In 1953 he returned to train for ordination. He was ordained deacon on St Thomas’s Day, 21 December 1955, and priest a year later. His progress was impressive: after two periods of study in England, he became principal of Buwalasi. Then, in September 1966, he was appointed Provincial Secretary of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. It was a difficult position to occupy, and these were anxious days. But Luwum won a reputation for creative and active leadership, promoting a new vision with energy and commitment. Only three years later he was consecrated bishop of Northern Uganda, on 25 January 1969. The congregation at the open-air services included the prime minister of Uganda, Milton Obote, and the Chief of Staff of the army, Idi Amin.
Amin sought power for himself. Two years later he deposed Obote in a coup. In government he ruled by intimidation, violence and corruption. Atrocities, against the Acholi and Langi people in particular, were perpetrated time and again. The Asian population was expelled in 1972. It was in the midst of such a society, in 1974, that Luwum was elected Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. He pressed ahead with the reform of his church in time to mark the centenary of the creation of the Anglican province. But he also warned that the Church should not conform to ‘the powers of darkness’. Amin cultivated a relationship with the archbishop, arguably to acquire credibility. For his part, Luwum sought to mitigate the effects of his rule, and to plead for its victims.
The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches increasingly worked together to frame a response to the political questions of the day. On 12 February 1976 Luwum delivered a protest to Amin against all acts of violence that were allegedly the work of the security Services. Church leaders were summoned to Kampala and then ordered to leave, one by one. Luwum turned to Bishop Festo Kivengere and said, ‘They are going to kill me. I am not afraid’. Finally alone, he was taken away, tried by a kangaroo court, and executed on February 17, 1977. His body was buried later near St Paul’s Church, Mucwini.
- Adapted from the Westminster Abbey website
O God, whose Son the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep: We give you thanks for your faithful shepherd, Janani Luwum, who after his Savior’s example gave up his life for the people of Uganda. Grant us to be so inspired by his witness that we make no peace with oppression, but live as those who are sealed with the cross of Christ, who died and rose again, and now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of Janini Luwum, Archbishop of Uganda and Martyr, are published on the Lectionary Page website.
Archbishop Janani Luwum is commemorated on February 16 in the calendar of the Church of Uganda; and on February 17 in the calendar of the Church of England and of The Episcopal Church.