17 February 2012

Remembering an Anglican martyr

‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God’ (I John 3: 1) … a statue of Archbishop Luwum (right) on the façade of Westminster Abbey

Patrick Comerford

At Morning Prayer in the chapel this morning we used Morning Prayer from Common Worship in the Church of England, and, drawing on the calendar of the Church of England, we remembered Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum, who is commemorated on 17 February in the calendar of many Anglican Churches.

We began with a prayer written almost 400 years ago by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes in 1626:

Blessed are you, creator of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As your dawn renews the face of the earth
bringing light and life to all creation,
may we rejoice in this day you have made;
as we wake refreshed from the depths of sleep,
open our eyes to behold your presence
and strengthen our hands to do your will,
that the world may rejoice and give you praise.

A note on the service sheet this morning tells the story of the martyred Ugandan archbishop:

Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum

Archbishop Janani Jakaliya Luwum (1922-1977), who is recalled on this day in a lesser Festival in the Calendar of the Church of England and other Anglican churches, was the Archbishop of the (Anglican) Church of Uganda from 1974, and was one of the most influential modern Church leaders in Africa. He was murdered in 1977 by either Idi Amin personally or by Amin’s henchmen.

The archbishop was born in a village in 1922, and trained as a primary teacher before he converted to Christianity in 1948. A year later, he went to Buwalasi Theological College, and he was ordained deacon in 1953 and priest in 1954. He was consecrated a bishop in 1961 and five years later became Archbishop of the Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire – the second African to hold this position.

Archbishop Luwum was openly critical of the excesses of Idi Amin and his regime after he seized power in 1971. In 1977, the archbishop delivered a note of protest to Idi Amin against the policies of arbitrary killings and disappearances. Shortly after, he and other Church leaders were accused of treason.

On 16 February 1977, he was arrested and was publicly humiliated at a rally called in Kampala by Amin. He was killed the next day – supposedly in a car crash, although he had been shot through the mouth and in the chest several times. Time magazine suggested Amin himself had pulled the trigger.

Archbishop Janani Luwum is recognised as a martyr in the Church of England and other Anglican churches, and his death is marked on this day, 17 February, as a Lesser Festival. His statue is among those of the Martyrs of the Twentieth Century on the west façade of Westminster Abbey.

– Patrick Comerford, 17 February 2012

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute

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