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DAR2007: Orombi Preaches on the Martyrdom of Archbishop Luwum to Primates

Chapel Sermon by Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda at the Primates Meeting, Friday February 16 2007, The eve of the thirtieth anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda.

The Church of Uganda

The Church of Uganda was born in 1877 through CMS missionaries who were invited by the King of Buganda. In 1885 Bishop James Hannington was murdered as he came to Uganda through the eastern part of the country. He was believed to be an enemy because he was approaching Uganda from the east. On June 3rd 1886, the Martyrs of Uganda were killed because they refused homosexual advances by the then King of Buganda. In 1962 Uganda became independent. In 1971 Idi Amin took over from Dr Apolo Milton Obote, the elected President of Uganda.


Janani Luwum spoke of when he surrendered his life to Christ:

"Today I have become a leader in Christ's army. I am prepared to die in the army of Jesus. As Jesus shed his blood for his people, if it is God's will, I do the same." Such were the words of a primary-school teacher in his own village where he was well known and where his family and village had wanted him to be a chief. "When I was converted, after realising that my sins were forgiven and the implications of Jesus' death and resurrection, I was overwhelmed by a sense of joy and peace. I suddenly found myself climbing a tree to tell those in the school compound to repent and turn to Jesus Christ. From time to time I spoke in tongues. I stayed up that tree for a long time."

"Later on I discovered that some boys were converted due to my sermon I preached up that tree. The reality of Jesus overwhelmed me - and it still does. But I would be wrong to demand that those who are converted should climb a tree and speak in tongues."

Eleven months after his conversion, on one Sunday afternoon, Janani Luwum was moved to address an open-air meeting at All Saints Church in Kitgum, and he said: "The Holy Spirit has been showing me how many educated men are deserting the Church. When the Church dies out of existence they won't be there to take the blame. I feel deeply convicted that it the church faces extinction in this my native land, I will be around to die first before the Church falls, collapses or dies. It will have to fall on me. I totally surrender myself to the Church."

Then he fell on the ground and wept bitterly amid loud shouts of praise, thanksgiving and tears of joy of repentance. Yusto Otunno responded by saying that Luwum, as one of the educated brethren, should join the full time ministry of the Church. God was calling him to sacrifice his teaching career, and the real possibility of being a local chief, and to offer himself for ordination.

His death

Early in 1977, a small army rebellion was put down with only seven men dead. However, Amin determined to stamp out all traces of dissent. His men killed thousands, including the entire population of Milton Obote's home village. On Sunday, 30 January, Bishop Festo Kivengere preached on "The Preciousness of Life" to an audience including many high government officials. He denounced the arbitrary bloodletting, and accused the government of abusing the authority that God had entrusted to it. The government responded on the following Saturday (5 February) by an early (1.30 am) raid on the home of the Archbishop, Janani Luwum, ostensibly to search for hidden stores of weapons. The Archbishop called on President Amin to deliver a note of protest at the policies of arbitrary killings and the unexplained disappearances of many persons. Amin accused the Archbishop of treason, produced a document supposedly by former President Obote attesting his guilt, and had the Archbishop and two Cabinet members ( both committed Christians) arrested and held for military trial. The three met briefly with four other prisoners who were awaiting execution, and were permitted to pray with them briefly. Then the three were placed in a Land Rover and not seen alive again by their friends. The government story is that one of the prisoners tried to seize control of the vehicle and that it was wrecked and the passengers killed.

The story believed by the Archbishop's supporters is that he refused to sign a confession, was beaten and otherwise abused, and finally shot. His body was placed in a sealed coffin and sent to his native village for burial there. However, the villagers opened the coffin and discovered the bullet holes. In the capital city of Kampala a crowd of about 4500 gathered for a memorial service beside the grave that of the martyred Bishop Hannington. In Nairobi, the capital of nearby Kenya, about 10,000 gathered for another memorial service. Bishop Kivengere was informed that he was about to be arrested, and he and his family fled to Kenya, as did the widow and orphans of Archbishop Luwum.

The following, about 25,000 Ugandans came to the capital to celebrate the centennial of the first preaching of the Gospel in their country, among the participants were many who had abandoned Christianity, but who had returned to their Faith as a result of seeing the courage of Archbishop Luwum and his companions in the face of death.


Archbishop Janani Luwum, the third Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga-Zaire died a sacrificial death. His death brought revival to the Church of Uganda and changed the political climate of Uganda. He was declared the twenty-first saint in the Anglican Communion in 1998.

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