On 6th January 1948 a young school teacher, Janani Luwum, was converted to the charismatic Christianity of the East African Revival, in his own village in Acoli, 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, 21st 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 25th 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 Acoli 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. Soon they joined with the Muslims of Uganda. On 12th February 1977 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 and murdered. Later his body was buried near St Paul's Church, Mucwini.
"I am prepared to die in the army of Jesus." Janani Luwum
Amin's state was destroyed by invading Tanzanian forces in 1979. Amin himself fled abroad and escaped justice.
A memorial service for the Archbishop was held in Westminster Abbey on 30th March 1977.
Modern Martyrs of the 20th century
Janani Luwum is one of the ten Modern Martyrs of the 20th century. The Martyrs were unveiled in 1998 above the west door of the Abbey.