Tracing the Final Journey of Archbishop Janani Luwum

St Janani Luwum. Even today, he still stands tall as a role model for his modesty, humility and his devotion to God

By Olara Otunnu

On the night of 16 February , 1977 , a great dark deed was committed in Kampala . Archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered , at Nakasero , by Ugandan president , Idi Amin .  Archbishop Janani was the head of the Anglican ecclesiastical province , then composed of four countries   ( Burundi , eastern Congo , Rwanda & Uganda ) . The ugly showdown ,  unto-death ,  unfolded in remarkably   poignant installments , as if choreographed . These landmarks have become the Stations of the Cross ( landmarks in the path of bearing  the Cross ) in this martyrdom journey .

Showdown at Namirembe

The final journey began at Namirembe (the mother of peace) , this iconic hill , majestically perched atop Kampala , with a commanding  view of the city. The journey ended at Wii Gweng (the summit of rocks) in Mucwini Chua , in Kitgum district .

In the dead of night on 5 February , soldiers stormed the Archbishop’s residence at Namirembe . For over two hours , they assaulted and abused the Archbishop and his family , as they ransacked the place . They claimed to be looking for hidden weapons . Nothing was found . In response , all Bishops assembled at Namirembe and wrote a letter to Idi Amin on 8 February .

On 14 February , Amin sent a cabinet minister to collect the Archbishop from Namirembe , and bring him to State House , Entebbe . The Entebbe meeting was a very ugly and unsettling encounter . Amin was very hostile . He berated and insulted the Archbishop at length , before eventually releasing him to be returned to Namirembe . The Archbishop would later say , “ I think I was marked to be killed on Monday at Entebbe “ . He believed that it was the unexpected presence of his wife , Mama Mary , that prompted a sudden change of plan .

As the showdown was turning ominous by the day , relatives and friends implored the Archbishop to leave the country . Various embassies and outside churches offered to safely get him out . He understood their concerns and was very grateful ,  but his response was always the same , “ If I , the shepard, flee , what will happen to the sheep ? “ . He had all the opportunities to  leave , but elected to stay .

On 15 February , the Archbishop and all the Bishops ( and senior public servants )  were summoned , through  Radio Uganda , to report the following morning to Nile Mansions ( today’s Serena Hotel ) , for a “ very important event “ .  Early morning of 16 February , the Archbishop left Namirembe to report to Nile Mansions as required .

So , the first phase of the final showdown  unfolds from the night of 5 February to the morning of 16 February  . This plays out largely at Namirembe .   Namirembe then is the first Station of the Cross in this martyrdom  journey .

Show trial at Nile Mansions

The advertised “very important event” at Nile Mansions turned out to be an ostentatious and crude show trial of the Archbishop , cynically staged by Amin and his henchmen .  The  trumped-up charge was attempting to overthrow the Amin regime .

At the end of the long sham trial , Vice-President Mustafa Adrisi turned to  the gathering  , “ What shall we do with these traitors ? “. The  assembled soldiers roared back , “Kill them ! “ .  The question was asked three times , and each time the answer was the same  . A group of soldiers then stepped forward and separated the Archbishop from the other Bishops . Some Bishops wanted to accompany him , but the soldiers insisted, “ His Excellency wants to see him – – alone “ .

As he was being led away , the Archbishop turned to his fellow Bishops , smiling gently , and said , “ I am not afraid .  In all this , I see the hand of God “ . This was the last time he was seen in public . He was taken inside Nile Mansions ,  where Idi Amin was waiting for him . The physical abuse and humiliation started there .  Nile Mansions is the  second Station of the Cross  .

Later that afternoon , at about 4 pm , the Archbishop was delivered , now as a battered and abused prisoner , to the headquarters of the State Research Bureau ( the regime’s much-dreaded secret police outfit ) in Nakasero . He was taken to dungeon Cell No. 1 , located in the basement of the building .

Amin & the dark deed

At night,  Idi Amin himself suddenly arrived at the premises  , accompanied by a select entourage , including close associates Bob Astles and Jumba Masigazi . The Archbishop was taken from his cell to the first-floor office of Farouk Minawa  , where Amin and the team were waiting . It was in this office that Amin committed the dark deed . After taunting and savaging him for some time , Amin then shot the Archbishop at about 9 pm .  The  Archbishop was actually murdered at a spot (Minawa’s office )  directly overlooking the compound of his own cathedral, All Saints ,   some 100 meters away . This building then is the third Station of the Cross .

Murdered alongside the Archbishop that night were two cabinet ministers , Oboth Ofumbi and Erinayo Oryema .  The  latter , incidentally ,  had been the Archbishop’s primary school teacher in Kitgum .

The morning of 17 February , a government statement was put out  , narrating the official lie that the Archbishop and the two  ministers had died in a car accident .  While Church leaders and the family were waiting to bury the Archbishop  at Namirembe , soldiers were already on their way , secretly transporting the body to the north .

The military contingent reached Mucwini Chua ( the ancestral home of the Archbishop ) in the evening of 17 February ; it was already dark . Nervous and afraid for their own safety , they decided to quietly drive past Mucwini , continuing to Bana Bana military barracks in  Madi Opei  . Here they spent the  night . This is the fourth Station of the Cross .

It was daytime on 18 February when the soldiers returned with their consignment to Mucwini . This time they headed straight  to the family compound , near the trading center , hoping to quietly bury him there . They found Mama Aireni ( Archbishop’s mother and family matriarch )  alone at home . She firmly objected to their plan ,  “Long time ago , we gave Janani to God and the Church . He doesn’t belong to us anymore . He now belongs to God and His people ” .  She insisted that they take the body to the churchyard by the primary school , at Wii Gweng , the hill beyond the little valley of Oraa-labolo . After a tense stand-off , the soldiers eventually yielded and proceeded to Wii Gweng , as directed by Mama Aireni . The family compound is the fifth Station of the Cross .

Trouble sinking a grave

At Wii Gweng , on the first day  , the soldiers laboured in vain to sink a grave at three different spots in the churchyard . At night , exhausted , hungry and afraid , the soldiers abandoned the coffin inside the little church , saying they would return “after resting and eating” . In fact , they did not come back until the following morning . Their overnight absence provided a singular opportunity for a daring  coterie of relatives and friends to sneak in and , using a lantern lamp , fully examine the body in the coffin . This viewing has  provided us details about the desecration  of the body and the gruesome wounds and torture inflicted on the Archbishop . The Archbishop ended up spending the last night before his interment in St Paul’s – –  ‘his church’ ; for this is the mabaati-roofed  church that he and Mzee Ejira Kibwota (local businessman and church elder ) had built at Wii Gweng . This , ‘his church’ , became his last Station of the Cross .

On the second day , at a fourth spot identified by the locals , the soldiers  finally succeeded to sink a grave . Three days after his gruesome murder and a long  , concealed journey across the country , the Archbishop’s martyrdom journey came to a finality  .  After a simple , hurried ceremony , attended by a small gathering of relatives and family friends , the Archbishop was finally laid to rest at about 3 pm on 19 February , 1977. This has been his resting place ever since .

Since 2015 , Wii Gweng has also been the venue for national and international commemoration of St Janani Luwum Day , marked on 16 February.

Foot Pilgrimage 2020

What has been sketched above represents the exact trail and events that marked the final journey of  Archbishop Janani . The idea behind planned “ Foot Pilgrimage 2020” is to retrace this martyrdom journey, its  route and landmarks, station by station , as it actually unfolded historically . It is to evoke today the spiritual and historical moments that defined this searing martyrdom  .

The purpose of “Foot Pilgrmage 2020”    is grateful remembrance and thanksgiving for the extraordinary life and example of Archbishop  Janani – –   for his faith and courage , selflessness and sacrifice  , humility and love . Drawing on his example and the Scriptures , the Pilgrimage will be an opportunity to renew and deepen our faith . All Christians , drawn from their various faith traditions ( Anglican , Catholic, Orthodox , Pentecostal , Baptist , Born-Again  , etc . ) have been warmly invited to participate in this journey of faith . Led by the Church of Uganda , this Pilgrimage will be a coming together for all Christians who feel called to undertake this devotion  – –  in unity , humility and common fellowship . Most important, the Pilgrimage prompts each of us to ask of ourselves particularly : What should I learn and emulate from the extraordinary life and example of this hero of faith ?

What manner of man?

What is it then about  the life and witness of St. Janani  that is worthy    of great  national    and global   remembrance and  thanksgiving ? Several  things   immediately  jump out.  His passion   for proclaiming the Gospel .   His deep and abiding faith. Through thick and thin, his clear, unflinching prophetic voice for human rights  and social justice. His quiet confidence and steely courage . In the face of everything – – ominous threats,  mortal  danger, and ultimately  death — –  he never wavered. He seemed to draw from a deep inner well of confidence and tranquility.

In life, it was very striking how Archbishop 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 .

As Archbishop, he became a major uniting and healing force within a fractured Anglican Church and a country in terrible agony.As a leader,   he was a great unifier   and reconciler of people . He set an example   of simple,   uncomplicated integrity . He was oblivious to the allure   of materialism . He lived   a simple,   unpretentious and giving   life.

He was particularly devoted  to young    people. Even as Archbishop, with   a  punishing schedule,    he  always made time for the youth , engaging   and encouraging them. He was a hunter for talent ; he mentored many young people  , including current Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu and Archbishop- emeritus   Luke Orombi .

Well ahead of his times in the Church, he began to pursue   a clear vision   for development , particularly for empowerment of women, poverty-reduction and rural development. One of the fruit of his development vision is Janani Luwum Church House , the edifice in downtown Kampala . 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.

A turning point for Uganda

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,  17  February 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 , for example , has largely  lost these values. It 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 – – 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  .

“ I am not afraid . In all this I see the hand of God “( St Janani ) 

**Olara  Otunnu is the author of “Archbishop Janani Luwum : The Life and Witness of a 20th Century Martyr “  ( Fountain Publishers , 2015 ) . He has written and adapted this article from the book