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Uganda announces event to celebrate Anglican Church's "forgotten martyr"

Posted on: January 12, 2015 4:33 PM
Archbishop Luwum was "a gentle, peaceful and humble man", but a determined shepherd
Photo Credit: Church of Uganda
Related Categories: Uganda

By ACNS staff, with additional reporting by the Revd Dr Nigel Collinson

Leading figures in Uganda today announced they will be holding a day of celebration to remember an Anglican Archbishop who was assassinated for opposing the Idi Amin regime.

At a ceremony at Namirembe Cathedral today notaries - including Uganda's Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugund, the former Prime Minister Professor Apolo Nsibambi, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali and other bishops - announced a major event to remember 20th Century martyr Archbishop Janani Luwum.

Every 16th day of February for the last 37 years a small function to commemorate the late archbishop has taken place place at Mucwini primary school where the late Archbishop rests.

This year a major event, with support at the highest levels of Ugandan society, will be held on the same day at Archbishop Janani Luwum’s home village and burial site in Mucwini, Kitgum. Archbishop Stanley Ntagali announced he will be the Chief Celebrant and the Church of England’s Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, will be the Preacher.

This will be good news to Janani Luwum's daughter, July Adriko who media reports said had felt her father had been "forgotten".

A gentle, determined shepherd

In their A Century of Christianity in Uganda, Tom Tuma and Phares Mutibwa described Archbishop Luwum as "a gentle, peaceful and humble man", a determined shepherd who "was capable of searching for the hundredth sheep even if that meant risking his own life".

This is what he was doing on 7 February 1977, when he and Dr Sam Wills went to the notorious Naguru prison to look for the medical superintendent of Mengo Hospital, abducted from his house by Ugandan soldiers.

On 12 February 1977, Archbishop Luwum delivered a note of protest to the President about the regime’s acts of violence.
President Amin summoned him and other religious leaders, including the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop and a prominent Muslim leader, to the presidential palace on 16 February.  After being harangued by Amin they were allowed to depart one by one, leaving Archbishop Luwum alone.  As Bishop Festo Kivengere left, the Archbishop said to him, "They are going to kill me.  I am not afraid."

He was not seen alive again.  The next day, 17 February, the announcement was made that Archbishop Janani had been killed in a car accident.  In fact, he had been shot. He left a widow, Mary Lavinyo, and nine children.

An Anglican martyr

In July 1988 Janani Luwum’s statute was unveiled in Westminster Abbey in London as one of the ten martyrs of the 20th Century. His death is commemorated on 17 February across the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop likely knew the risk of speaking out against injustice and violence when he said: "I do not know how long I shall occupy this chair.  I live as though there will be no tomorrow…While the opportunity is there, I preach the Gospel with all my might, and my conscience is clear before God."