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The Chronicles of Archbishop Janani Luwum

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A man of God stood up to a then dictator and met his death. Today, a whole 23 years later, Uganda still remembers the Kitgum-born Archbishop, Janani Luwum. A day, the 16th day of February, to be specific, was set aside to annually celebrate this hero that is Archbishop Luwum. His chronicles, like most heroes deserve a proper telling, as he died before over 70% of the country’s population had been born.

But first, this year’s commemoration rings highly as it started with a walk from Namirembe Cathedral to where the Archbishop’s remains now rest in Mucwini. Pilgrims, including formal Presidential hopeful, Amabssador Olara Otunu, showed commitment and celebrated a man that was also recognized as a martyr. Yes, St. Janani Luwum! To journey through his story, here’s an account by the global public holiday platform dubbed, Public Holidays Global, that captures this history and writes thusly:

Archbishop Luwum was born in Mucwini, Chua in 1924 and educated at Gulu High School before being trained to teach school at Boroboro Teacher’s College. While teaching, he became a Christian and joined the Leadership of the Chosen Evangelical Revival Movement in 1948.

The movement supported him as he trained for ordained ministry in the Native Anglican Church. He was ordained Priest of what was then the Upper Nile Diocese in 1956, serving as Parish Priest and Chaplain in many different schools and parishes throughout the area. He returned to England to study at the London College of Divinity, which is now St. John’s College, Nottingham, completing his three-year degree in just two years.

Archbishop Luwum returned to Uganda where he was eventually appointed provincial secretary to Archbishop Erica Sabiti who was the first African Archbishop. Archbishop Luwum succeeded Archbishop Sabiti, becoming the second African to hold the position.

While in this position, he was a leading voice in the criticism of Idi Amin and, in 1977, he delivered a note of protest to the dictator regarding unexplained disappearances and murders. Archbishop Luwum was arrested with two cabinet members and the three men were placed on display at a rally in Kampala.

The day after the rally, Radio Uganda announced that all three men had died in a car accident when the victims attempted to overpower the driver. However, when his family retrieved his body, they reported that Archbishop Luwum had been shot in the mouth and at least three times in the chest.

Rumors persisted that Amin shot all three men himself, although he vehemently denied the murder. After his death, he was declared a martyr by Canterbury Cathedral/Church of England, the first ecclesiastical society to proclaim him an African Martyr.

 Celebrations and Traditions

In 2016, President Museveni declared February 16 a public holiday in Archbishop Luwum’s memory. In addition, the ministries of Education and Gender, Labour and Social Development were ordered to erect a statue in Kampala in his honour. A museum will also be created in Mucwin in memory of the 30 people who were killed by LRA rebels in 2002.

The first commemoration included a ceremony at his gravesite with close friends relaying the story of what he suffered prior to his death. Apollo Lawoko, a former information officer who was in the cell next to the archbishop, reported that he heard him pleading with his captors and professing his innocence before two gunshots that more than likely ended the archbishop’s life. The date will now be a public holiday in Uganda with schools, offices and businesses closed.

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