Saint Janani Jakaliya Luwum was the head of the Anglican ecclesiastical province, then composed of four countries (Burundi, Eastern Congo, Rwanda and Uganda) from 1974 to 1977 as one of the most influential leaders of the modern church in Africa. He was arrested in February 1977 and shortly after, he died. Although the official account describes a car crash as the official cause of his death, it is generally accepted that he was murdered on the orders of then President, Idi Amin Dada. His murder was a wake-up call for the international community about the inhuman regime in Uganda. St Janani Luwum has been immortalized with a statue at West Minister Abbey (UK) as one of the recognized ten martyrs of the 20th century. He is a most compelling role-model for the world, regardless of faith background.
The ugly showdown, unto-death, unfolded in remarkably poignant installments, as if choreographed. These landmarks have become the Stations of the Cross (milestones in the path of bearing the Cross) in this martyrdom journey
An inaugural Pilgrimage paying homage, in grateful remembrance of St Janani’s faith, courage and searing martyrdom is scheduled for 27th January 2020. Click the button below if you would like to participate!
There is one aspect of the profound impact of Archbishop Janani’s martyrdom that is, sadly, not well known or appreciated in Uganda. The fact that it was the searing martyrdom of St. Janani that marked the pivotal turning point for the Amin regime and the subsequent liberation of Uganda. It united Ugandans as never before. The international community was finally and dramatically jolted from its complacency about the Amin regime. An unthinkable line had been crossed by Amin. At the international level, the impact was huge.
This became a critical 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.
A role model for our times
Around the world, there is great devotion to St. Janani. In many countries and churches, there is devoted celebration of his life and martyrdom. Churches, chapels and schools have been named after him all over the world.
The Church of England, in particular, has accorded the Archbishop-martyr special recognition and devotion. The Sunday after his martyrdom, a memorial service was held for him at Canterbury Cathedral. In 1978, Canterbury Cathedral dedicated a special chapel; the Chapel of Modern Martyrs prompted by the martyrdom of Archbishop Janani. In July 1998, his statue was unveiled in Westminster Abbey, in the presence of the Queen and Prince Philip. He is one of ten martyrs of the 20th century thus recognized. The other martyrs include:
Father Maximillian Kolbe (Catholic, Poland); Martin Lither King Jr. (Baptist, USA) Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Lutheran, Germany); Archbishop Oscar Romero (Catholic, El Salvador). In the Church of England calendar celebrating saints and martyrs, February 17 is celebrated as the Festival of Janani Luwum. They also have the Collect of Janani Luwum.
The values and moral bearings exemplified by St Janani are all the more compelling today because many societies worldwide are desperately searching for them. The Ugandan society, is a society in the throes of a grave moral crisis, a shauri yako culture, in which anything goes.
The life and witness of St Janani could not be more pertinent and powerful for contemporary society everywhere today than for Uganda, for Africa and for the world. He provides a radical counterpoint to what we complacently accept all around us today as the ‘new normal.’ In him, we have an authentic hero and a truly compelling role model. As a role model, his example resonates across all boundaries, both inspiring and challenging us, in equal measure. This is the meaning of St Janani’s life and witness for us today.