Thursday, February 17, 2011

Janani Luwum

In the Westminster Abbey gallery of 20th century
Christian martyrs, Janani Luwum, Archbishop of
Uganda, represents Africa. On the night of
February 16-17, 1977, as the archbishop stood up
to his government and spoke up on behalf of his
suffering people, he received martyrdom at the
hands of Idi Amin. For a hundred years, Uganda
had seen the passion of Christ through his
people: sharing in his suffering and in the joy
of the resurrection that transcends it.

As Jesus inaugurated his ministry in the
synagogue at Nazareth, he declared that today
these words of the prophet Isaiah have been
fulfilled in your hearing:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he
has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the
captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to
let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year
of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)

If the church has anywhere been called to share
in the ministry and mission of Christ, in his
passion and in his joy, it is here and now - here
and now for Janani Luwum was Uganda in the time
of Obote and Amin; for us it is here and now
where we are today.

Four decades before Janani Luwum was born,
Christianity came to Uganda through Anglican and
Roman Catholic missionaries. Many of them and the
people who responded to their message became
martyrs straightaway, as the ruler of that time
saw them as a threat.

King Mwanga had 32 of his own followers,
Christian converts, stacked like cordwood and
burned. As they died, they sang praise to God and
prayed for their persecutors. The killings did
not have the intended effect: the Ugandan people,
seeing the example of the martyrs, sought out the
few remaining Christians to learn about the
gospel - and the faith spread like wildfire.

We celebrate Uganda's 19th century martyrs
beginning with James Hannington, and we celebrate
its 20th century martyrs beginning with Janani

Born in Acholiland in northern Uganda, Janani
Luwum initially thought to become a
schoolteacher. When, like his father before him,
he converted to Christianity, he began
immediately to share the word and speak out for
God's justice for the people in the land. He
became a figure of peace and reconciliation as he
sought to give the gospel African expression. He
encouraged his church to become economically
independent and take its place among the churches
of the globe as an equal partner in mission. He
worked for the poor, for education and the
alleviation of suffering. And he worked for

Thirty years after the death of Janani Luwum, the
archbishop of York, John Sentamu, in his Martin
Luther King memorial lecture on 20 January 2007,
gave God's people a call to action that has
implications beyond the walls of the lecture
hall-or the church:

"We must do battle with the four modern demons of
our time: Idolatry, materialism, militarism, and
race-ism. The Christian response is grounded and
formed in the words of Jesus: Love one another.
This is the love that turns the other cheek, the
love that stands in the face of suffering and
refuses to be cowed, this is a love so strong
that it bursts forth from the grave leaving
behind it an empty tomb."



(See also

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