January can be a long month; a time when we scan the horizon for any impending event. Because of this St Valentine gets a lot of press, and the 14 February can be a welcome excuse for a little diversion in the bleak mid-winter. However he is Christian Martyr we should be remembering this month. The 16 February marks the death of Janani Luwum in Uganda, where it is remembered with a public holiday. As we focus on Uganda in this month’s Column Inches we take a look at the life of this twentieth century martyr.
Janani Luwum was born in the Kitgum Distric of Uganda in 1922. He converted to Christianity at the age of 26 and started theological college the following year. He spent the 1950s and 60s working in the Church in Uganda having been ordained a priest in 1954. In 1974 Luwum was ordained Archbishop of the Metropolitan Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga in Zaire. At this time he was only the second African to hold this position.
Meanwhile in January 1971 Army Officer Idi Amin seized power in Uganda via a military coup. His military dictatorship would last until 1979, a period characterised by extensive abuses of human rights. Archbishop Luwum was an outspoken critic of this regime, and in 1977 he delivered a note to Amin protesting about levels of violence in Uganda. Amin reacted by accusing the Archbishop of treason, and arresting him together with two cabinet minsters. The next day Ugandan radio announced that the three men has been killed in a car crash while on their way to be interrogated. However when Archbishop Luwum’s body was later recovered it contained a number of bullets.
Mercifully Archbishop Luwum’s death was not forgotten. His assassination created international awareness of the situation in Uganda. Amin would stay in power for scarcely two more years. Meanwhile in 1988 a statue of Luwum joined those of other 20th century martyrs above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, rubbing shoulders with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King.
What interested me most while researching this article was not Janani Luwum’s many accolades and accomplishments, but his humanity. He was a man who found himself in impossible circumstances, and I cannot imagine what he felt while he was denouncing Amin. Was he terrified, or driven by a determination greater than his own? It makes me wonder how many of our own U.K. Bishops would be prepared to lose their lives to stand up to a despotic regime. Hopefully we will never have cause to find out.
Now read about the links St John’s has with Uganda here
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