Dying for our faith

Daily Reading for February 17 • Janani Luwum, Archbishop of Uganda, and Martyr, 1977

Not since the days of Cranmer and Laud has an Anglican archbishop suffered the ultimate penalty for his faith and Luwum has therefore a special place in the history of the whole Anglican communion. He has been remembered in a chapel dedicated to modern martyrs in Canterbury Cathedral. In 1998 ten statues commemorating Christian martyrs of the twentieth century were unveiled on the west face of Westminster Abbey in London. Archbishop Luwum and Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvadore stand side by side with Maximilian Kolbe and Martin Luther King. . . .

Janani Luwum’s death is inextricably bound up with the complex political and cultural history of Uganda’s development as an independent state. Janani Luwum was intimately involved in the defence of human rights, and had an intense concern for the prisoner and the widow, both as Bishop of Northern Uganda and as Archbishop. There was a strong tradition in the Revival movement, to which Luwum belonged, of shunning the dirty world of politics. Luwum strongly resisted such a stance, regarding it as irresponsible and, for a bishop in Uganda, self-deceiving. He saw clearly the need for engagement, for struggle against dehumanizing forces. . . .

A grave was prepared in the grounds of Namirembe Cathedral. But the body was not released, nor was a memorial service allowed by the government. Thousands instead gathered for the main Sunday morning service on 20 February. The writer attended this extraordinary service. No mention was made of the Archbishop, apart from a brief factual announcement of his death during the notices. . . . My recollection is of an unbearable tension in the cathedral. With no outlet for grief, the congregation filed out of the cathedral with a tremendous sense of unresolved emotion. The organist began to play the Martyrs’ hymn Bulijjo Tutendereza (Daily, daily sing the praises), which, it is believed, the young Baganda Christian martyrs sang on their way to execution some ninety years before. The congregation began to sing the familiar words, and soon the whole church resounded with the hymn. People gathered around the empty tomb and the retired Archbishop addressed the crowd. For the first time the death of Luwum was openly acknowledged and proper tribute made. Pointing to the empty grave, Saviiti proclaimed, “‘He [Christ] is not here, he is risen.’ Janani also has gone to be with the risen Lord. We too should be willing to die for our faith.’”

From “Archbishop Janani Luwum: The Dilemmas of Loyalty, Opposition and Witness in Amin’s Uganda” by Kevin Ward, in Christianity and the African Imagination: Essays in Honour of Adrian Hastings, edited by David Maxwell, with Ingrid Lawrie (Leiden: Brill, 2002).

Past Posts