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JANANI LUWUM AND THE HAND OF THE LORD

“I CAN SEE the hand of the Lord in this.” Those were the last words Archbishop Luwum’s fellow bishops heard him say. It was on this day, 16 February 1977.


In a crowded stadium, Idi Amin, dictatorial ruler of Uganda, had accused Luwum and other bishops of conspiring to overthrow him so as to restore power to ousted president Milton Obote. Luwum, standing next to Bishop Festo Kivengere, whispered, “They are going to kill me. I am not afraid.” After the “evidence” was read, soldiers who were present shouted, “Kill them, kill them,” but the bishops were told they could leave. However Luwum was called back to see Amin.


That night the government announced his arrest. The next day Ugandan radio claimed that Luwum and two Christian cabinet members, Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi, had died trying to seize control of a car they were riding in. However eyewitnesses said they were shot. The government would not allow anyone to view the bodies.


Crowds turned out on 20 February to mourn their archbishop and celebrate the certainty of resurrection. Luwum had been popular, although a few had grumbled that he collaborated too much with Amin. Luwum’s response had been, “While the opportunity is there, I preach the gospel with all my might. My conscience is clear before God that I have not sided with the present government, which is utterly self-seeking. I have been threatened many times. Whenever I have the opportunity, I have told the president the things the church disapproves of. God is my witness.”


Born to poor parents, Luwum was not able to afford school until he was ten years old. However, he studied hard from then on and became a top student and eventually a teacher himself. Converted in an evangelistic meeting, he proved to be a single-minded Christian. He even climbed a tree and preached to fellow students and sometimes spoke in tongues among the branches. 


Although tribal leadership was open to him, he opted to become a clergyman. One of his earliest independent assignments was in a poor rural region forty miles wide that he had to crisscross on bicycle. Much of his time was spent defusing quarrels between Uganda’s many ethnic and tribal factions.


His rise was steady, and when Eric Sabiti retired as archbishop of Uganda in 1974, there was little doubt Luwum would be his successor. Amin, who was from a predominantly Islamic tribe, did not attend the consecration. A few days before Luwum’s death, Amin’s forces raided his home, claiming he was hiding guns. During the raid, they held a gun to his ribs. Afterward Protestant and Catholic bishops as well as Muslim imams united in protesting the action. Their protest may have precipitated Amin’s determination to rid himself of Luwum.


As it turned out, Eric Sabiti, whom Luwum had succeeded, would preach his funeral service. Luwum’s statue was included among other statues of twentieth-century martyrs on the exterior of Westminster Abbey. 

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