Uganda: Remembering Archbishop Luwum, Martyr

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Archbishop Luwum's portrait. Source:



This commentary on some possible ways to honor the late Archbishop Janani Luwum a Ugandan martyr murder by Gen. Idi Amin is by Olara Otunnu a Ugandan diplomat, statesman and political leader


I. Overall Objective.    

To plan and put in place memorial arrangements, to honor, remember and celebrate the Life, Testimony, Martyrdom and Example of Won-wa, St. Janani Luwum, as a preeminent Christian leader and 20th Century martyr. He is a most compelling role model for the world, regardless of faith background.

II. The Life, Testimony, Martyrdom and Example of St. Janani.

What is the meaning of the life of St. Janani and what does it exemplify? What is it about his testimony and example that is worthy of great national and global remembrance and celebration?  Although an adequate response cannot be captured in a few sentences, several things immediately stand out.

His passion for proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. His deep and abiding faith. Through thick and thin, his clear, unflinching prophetic voice for human rights and social justice. His  quiet , steely  courage  and confidence in the face of  everything - -  ominous threats ,  mortal danger, and,  ultimately,  martyrdom . He never wavered. He seemed to draw from a deep inner well of tranquility. He remained calmly confident and faithful   - - unto death.

In life, it was very striking how St. Janani exuded such natural and infectious love and joy. He always had a glowing face, with this warm, loving smile.  He truly had the gift of love. He was remarkably selfless and generous of spirit. 

As Archbishop , he became  a major uniting  and  healing  force within  a fractured  Church and  a  country in  terrible agony . That is why he was universally accepted and loved in the Church and in the country. As a person and leader, he was a great unifier and reconciler of people - -  larib dano.

He set an example of simple, uncomplicated integrity in all things.  At a personal level, he was oblivious to the allure of materialism. He lived a simple, giving, unpretentious life.

He was particularly devoted to young people. Even as Archbishop, with a punishing schedule, he always made special efforts to be available for students and other young people, engaging and encouraging them.  He looked out for and mentored a lot of young talent, including current Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu. 

Very early on, well ahead of his times in the Church, he began to pursue a clear vision and commitment to development issues, particularly in the fields of education, poverty-reduction and rural upliftment.  One of the fruits of his development vision and innovation is the Church edifice nearing completion on Kampala Road.  He often spoke about this project; it was very dear to him.       

Of physical stature, he had an imposing charismatic presence.  Yet, he had a natural disposition of such simplicity, humility, gentleness and warmth about him. That is why all stations of people readily felt at-home in his presence.

The turning point

Remarkably, there is one aspect of the profound impact of St. Janani’s martyrdom that is not generally known and appreciated in Uganda. It was the searing martyrdom of St. Janani that marked the pivotal turning point for the Amin regime and the subsequent liberation of Uganda!  With the   assassination of the Archbishop, the international community was finally and dramatically jolted from its jadedness - - even complacency - - about the Amin regime.

An unthinkable line had been crossed by Amin. At the international level, the impact was huge. This became a game-changer. A sober realization dawned on the international community, particularly the Western world that the Amin regime had to go. This set the stage and mood that greatly facilitated and buttressed the subsequent, and ultimately successful, Tanzania-led campaign to remove the Amin regime.

This is but a mere sketch of some of the virtues, qualities and landmarks that are exemplified by St. Janani’s life and testimony - - these things that set him apart. This extraordinary story needs to be told. It should be set out, simply and accessibly, in a biographical profile for the general public. The world needs to know and draw from this spring of inspiration.

These values and moral rootedness are all the more poignant today because the Ugandan society, in particular, has largely lost them. It is a society in the throes of a grave moral crisis, a shauri yako culture in which anything goes. The life and testimony of St. Janani could not be more pertinent and powerful for contemporary Uganda, for Africa and for the world. He provides a radical counterpoint to what is ‘celebrated’ all around us today. In him we have an authentic hero, a giant in so many respects. This makes St. Janani  all the more remarkable and compelling as a role model, whose example should  both greatly inspire and greatly challenge us , in equal measure .

III. The Roots of the Martyr

St. Janani hails from the Central Lwo people of the Nile Valley, from the Chua clan and Pajong subclan. He was a school teacher before enrolling for the Church ministry.  He held several key positions in the Church (Bishop of Northern Uganda, Provincial Secretary, Principal of Buwalasi Theological College, etc.) before being elected Primate (Archbishop) of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire (Eastern DRC) in May 1974.   Following a period of prolonged tension and an ugly showdown with the Amin regime,   the Archbishop was murdered by Iddi Amin on 16 February 1977.

The  truly amazing story is that God  should have chosen the son of Eliya ,  from an ordinary peasant  family of Pajong , from  the improbable little hamlet of Mucwini  , and lifted and transformed him into a powerful  vessel ,  testimony and lantern unto the  world . What a moving example of God’s mystical workings of his providence! This is the larger context of St. Janani’s life and its powerful resonance. This larger picture must always be borne in mind in designing and planning all aspects of the Memorial arrangements.

Today, the legacy and resonance of St. Janani’s life far transcend all levels of his personal heritage and the zone of his ecclesiastical stewardship. He has become a special gift to the wider world.

IV. A Seed of the East African Revival.

St. Janani is a seed of the East African Revival. In the south, the Revival Belt stretched from Buganda, to Ankole and Kigezi, to Rwanda. Among the major pioneer movers were Simeoni Nsibambi, Blasio Kigozi, William Nagenda, Festo Kivengere.

Dr. Eliya Lubulwa, a medical officer who was posted to Kitgum, had already caught the revival fire in his native Buganda. His extracurricular passion in Kitgum was therefore spreading this new gospel. His first ‘convert ‘was Yusto Otunnu of Mucwini , who would proceed to spearhead the spread of this fire in northern and eastern Uganda, South Sudan, and Congo. The  new team of firebrand  preachers and leaders  (drawn from Uganda , South Sudan and Congo ) for this  stream of the Revival  included Sostini Dronyi , Yowasi Obuku , Eriazali Ejon , Christopher Wawire and Lazaro Owino . The first person to accept Christ through Yusto’s new Revival ministry was Eliya Okello, the father of Janani.  Not long afterwards, Janani himself (then a school teacher), on hearing the same message, was led to Christ on 6 January, 1948. A   new tribe of changed men and women, born-again Christians (jo mulare) ,was mushrooming across the upper Nile Valley. Lapwony Janani was one of them.

The Revival leadership was eager to have one of their own to join the church ministry and set the new fire from within the Church itself, which they then viewed as remote, formal and lukewarm. They settled on the talented young teacher, persuading him to enrol for training and ordination.The rest is history. It may be impossible to understand the incredible passion, enthusiasm, joy and love that St. Janani brought to his church ministry, without an appreciation of this transforming Revival experience. Within the family itself - - in addition to his father, Eliya - - his incredibly remarkable and saintly mother, Aireni  Aciro , was a pioneer and leader in the Revival, as is his brother, Aloni Okecho.

V. Celebration of St. Janani around the World.

Around the world, there is great devotion to St. Janani.  In many countries and churches, there is devoted celebration of his Life, Testimony, Martyrdom and Example. Churches, chapels, schools, etc., have been named after him.

The Church of England (the mother Church for the Anglican Communion), in particular, has accorded the martyred Archbishop special recognition and devotion. Within weeks of his martyrdom, on 30 March 1977, a special memorial service was held for him at Westminster Abbey in London. In 1978 , Canterbury  Cathedral  dedicated a special Chapel - -  20th  Century Martyrs  Chapel - -  to  the martyrdom  of Archbishop  Janani Luwum.

In July 1998, his statue was unveiled in Westminster Abbey, as one of ten Martyrs of the 20th Century thus recognized. The others include Maximillian Kolbe (Catholic ,Poland ) , Martin Luther King , Jr.( Baptist ,USA ) , Dietrich  Bonhoeffer (Lutheran , Germany ) , and Archbishop Oscar Romero (Catholic , El Salvador ) . In the Church of England’s calendar celebrating saints and martyrs, 17 February is observed as the Festival of Janani Luwum.

It is simply astonishing that such a giant and hero has been all but forgotten in his own homeland of Uganda.

VI. Some Unique Features of this Memorial.

There are several aspects of St. Janani’s martyrdom and remembrance which are quite unique.

He is a 20th Century Christian martyr. This makes him a very contemporary martyr and saint. One of a very small class indeed.

What is also unique is that this Christian martyr, unlike much earlier martyrs and saints of the ages, has immediate family and surviving direct relatives, associates and contemporaries, friends and disciples, even witnesses to his final ordeal and martyrdom. These persons are direct, living witnesses of his life, work and testimony. What a unique historical and spiritual treasure!  Their testimonies can capture and bring alive, in a unique way, all aspects of the Life, Testimony, Martyrdom and Example of St. Janani.

VII. The Agency for Realizing this Project.

Who will assume responsibility for undertaking this important project?.  This project needs to be planned, organized and executed through a tripartite collaboration, which brings together a group of ecumenical lay leaders, the family, and the Church. The planning , fundraising , and organizing  ( i.e. the heavy-lifting ) for the project should be borne  by the group  of volunteer  lay leaders , who feel  a deep  burden  and conviction to do something significant   -  - mapek  ,mupore - -  befitting the Life , Testimony ,  Martyrdom  and Example of  St. Janani .  This is, above all, a labor of love.

VIII. Specific Goals for the Memorial. 

There are several specific principal goals for the Memorial.

•    Raising awareness, documenting and disseminating information on the Life, Testimony, Martyrdom and Example of St. Janani.

•    Lifting the level and scope of the annual Pilgrimage and Prayer at Wii Gweng in Mucwini , beginning in 2015. Currently,this is largely a local gathering of Christians and relatives in Mucwini .

•    Working with all persons of goodwill and the Church leadership in particular to ensure that the  designation , Janani  Luwum  Memorial Centre ,  is restored to the  Church edifice on Kampala Road  (Plot 34 ), in accordance with the decision of  the Ninth Provincial Assembly of  CoU (held at BTTC , Mukono , 26 – 30 November, 1988), which  resolved “ to change the name  from Church House  to Janani Luwum Memorial Centre “. This change of name is not reflected anywhere on the project today .The Church needs to do the right thing in this regard.

•    Planning on steps that lead to marking 16 February (Day of Martyrdom) as a national Remembrance Day in Uganda.

•    Working with the leadership of the Church to develop regular commemoration on the Sunday following 16 February as St. Janani Luwum Memorial Day throughout the Church.

•    Planning and organizing an annual public Memorial event in Kampala, as the capital city of Uganda and also the seat of the then four-country ecclesiastical Province that was led by the martyr.

•    Linking commemoration in Uganda with remembrance and celebration of St. Janani elsewhere in the world.

•    Designing, planning and realizing long-term memorial arrangements, including related physical landmarks. These might include an appropriately reorganized resting place (whether in a crypt inside the church or outside in the church yard ) ;  a properly organized and constructed  Memorial site and shrine  at Wii Gweng  ; a relocated   primary school in a new location ; a reorganized  secondary school  ;  a  multi-purpose community facility at the Memorial site ; and , eventually,   an international  university for the Nile Valley.

All aspects of the Memorial should be executed systematically, stage-by-stage, according to a carefully thought-out overall plan.  Nothing should be embarked on in an ad hoc or casual manner.

IX. Immediate Priorities.

Four tasks constitute the most immediate priorities.

•    Planning, fundraising, organizing and programming for 2015, as the lift-off year for the annual Pilgrimage and Prayer in Mucwini .

•    Reaching out and having a dialogue with the leadership of the Church to ensure restoration of the designated name, Janani Luwum Memorial Centre, to the Church building before its inauguration later this year.

•    Writing a biographical booklet setting out the narrative, meaning and significance of St. Janani’s life and testimony for the general public.

•    Compiling significant testimonies about St. Janani from family members, associates, friends, disciples, etc.  , who are able to share their direct knowledge, experience and interactions with the martyr.

X.  Annual Memorial Prayer at Wii Gweng.           

The annual Prayer and Celebration in Mucwini should be for all Christians (Anglican, Catholic, Born-again, Pentecostal, etc.).This must be a truly ecumenical worship and celebration. At both the international and national levels, St. Janani was devoted to building a spirit of unity and fellowship among all Christians: “Has Christ been divided?” (1Cor.1). He and our beloved Bishop Cypriano Kihangire (when they were Anglican and Catholic bishops, respectively in Gulu) laid the foundation for Christian togetherness in Northern Uganda. Indeed this occasion should be celebrated by all people - - all who feel touched by his life and example. St. Janani is a preeminent Christian leader and martyr, with all the potent meaning that that carries for all believers. And yet, his life and example constitute a powerful role model for all people.

On the leadership of the Memorial Prayer, there should be three constants.

•    It should be presided over by the Archbishop of Church of Uganda, as Chief Celebrant. The Archbishop has already indicated that he will endeavor to make this annual pilgrimage a regular fixture on his pastoral program.

•    A special role in the worship should be reserved for the Archbishop of Gulu (Catholic).

•    Each year, there should be an invited Memorial Day Preacher whose principal responsibility is to deliver the sermon for the occasion. This should be a major Christian leader (ordained, theologian or lay leader) of outstanding moral stature and leadership, from any denomination, from anywhere in the world. 

In the future, dioceses from Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, DRC, South Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania should be invited to play a special partnering role in organizing the annual Memorial, working with the National Organizing committee on a rotational basis. In time, this rotation could be opened up to other dioceses and Christian organizations from around the world which may wish to participate in this special way in the Memorial.

XI. Some Programming Considerations for the Annual Memorial.

It is necessary to provide some programming parameters and pointers. The following proposals are put forward in that context.

The annual Prayer and Celebration should be devoted to three main activities only: Prayer; Testimonies; Celebration (thanksgiving, singing, dancing, etc.).

There is need to constitute organizing committees at two levels :   National Organizing Committee (NOC ), which  should liaise with all concerned parties     - -  the family, the Church at the Province and Diocese, Gulu- Kitgum level , the national  authorities, Ugandan Diaspora,  and wider international community  ; and  Local Organizing Committee ( LOC ) at Gulu- Kitgum  regional level .

•    The annual Memorial should be well-organized, with all aspects carefully thought-through, attended to, and delivered. The proceedings should be properly and creatively  scripted and choreographed, e.g. pilgrims donning  specially designed commemorative fabric; processions with songs, leading to a solemn and colorful ‘Approach of the Hill ’ ; a feast of well-selected and well-choreographed music and dancing ,  etc.

•    The Celebration should showcase classical Lwo music and dance that St. Janani loved so much. Among these are Bwola, Otole, Acut, Apiti. ( I still recollect vividly , as a school boy, being part of  this massive ,  joyous and awesome celebration  at  Pece in Gulu , on the occasion of St. Janani’s installation as Bishop of Northern Uganda .Indeed it is said that this was  probably the biggest gathering ever hosted at Pece  Stadium ) . Similarly, there should be selections of music and dance from other traditions, within and outside Uganda.

•    The annual  Memorial  should not be an occasion for speeches and ‘speechifying ‘, except for a representative of the family and the President  of Uganda(or V.P or PM reading his/her message in his/her absence).  The presence of special pilgrims and VIPs would of course be duly recognized.  However, it is very much hoped that, on this one occasion, all pilgrims would come, united in a common spirit of humility, reverence and prayerfulness. It is imperative that the integrity and spirit of this sacred moment and space not be violated and vulgarized by other agendas .There is a time and place for everything.

•    There should be no on-the-spot fundraising activities on the occasion of the annual Celebration itself. All fundraising activities should be organized and conducted at other times and in appropriate settings.

•    Invitation cards should be sent out to a broadly compiled list of invitees. This would serve a functional purpose, but also help to raise wider awareness about the Memorial.

XII. Annual Pre-Pilgrimage Evangelization  Campaigns.

Initiatives for pre-pilgrimage evangelization  campaigns and conventions should be encouraged and developed, as they would provide important spiritual reawakening and recommitment, in preparation for 16 February worship and celebration.  What a wonderful prelude to the annual Pilgrimage and Prayer!  Churches and various Christian groups should organize and actively participate in these evangelization  campaigns and conventions.

XIII. Observance of Memorial Day in the Church.

A befitting regular annual Remembrance needs to be designated and organized throughout the Church on the Sunday immediately following 16 February (Day of Martyrdom). It appears in fact that a decision was made, also in 1988, by the House of Bishops and the Provincial Standing Committee that that Sunday “should be observed as Janani Luwum Memorial Day throughout the Province of the Church of Uganda and all the Anglican Communion throughout the world and that money collected on this day should be sent to the Janani Luwum Memorial Centre account.”  It also was decided that “letters requesting the Anglican Communion throughout the world to observe Janani Luwum Memorial Day were to be sent to all provinces of the Anglican Communion.” It is unclear, however, that much has been done in this regard.This Memorial Day needs to be organized in Uganda and the Anglican Communion, worldwide.

XIV. Public Commemoration in Kampala.

A major public commemorative event, providing opportunity for wide participation by the public, needs to be designed and organized for Kampala.  Several options are possible, e.g . :  a festive celebration with music and dance; a processional walk; festive running , etc.  A procession could make a loop from Namirembe, to All Saints in Nakasero, to Janani Luwum Memorial Centre, concluding with worship and celebration at Constitution Square.

XV. Fund-raising Plan.

A fund-raising plan is needed, beginning with the 2015 commemoration.  The fund-raising activities, which must begin now, can be organized in concentric circles of donor pools with various categories and levels of donors designated.

XVI. Wii Gweng , Mucwini.

As it happens, Wii Gweng (the name means the summit covered by rocks) is a particularly well-appointed locale for this Memorial.  It is a naturally elevated rocky table, near a main road, and only 18 kilometers north of Kitgum town.

However, Wii Gweng is too small to accommodate both a modern large primary school and a serious, appropriate Memorial.  It would be better to move the primary school to another nearby location with adequate space, so that the space at Wii Gweng can be devoted entirely to St. Janani Luwum Memorial. This would allow for an imaginative redesign of the space, custom-made for the Memorial.

XVII. Appropriate Resting Place.

An appropriate resting place could be in the church yard or it could be moved to a crypt inside the proposed new church. This may have design implications for the space as a whole. This needs to be discussed with the family.


“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”2 Timothy, 4: 7.


“ To God Be The Glory, Great Things He Has Done”



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