Remembering St Janani Luwum - The metaphor of Africa's unsung icons!

The ribbons of romance and colours of love that sprang up early February are down. Sweetened couples hung over in love wake up on this Friday morning lost in thought of the beatitudes of deep affection. For some, it’s heartbreak as relationship delinquents are nowhere to be found! Few will ponder the life and legacy of Saint Valentine.

Details of the man Valentine’s Day is named after are contested. Two men are listed, the first a Roman priest and the second a bishop. One thing is agreed upon: he was martyred on February 14th. As conflated biographies circulate the most appealing is one of an arrest for the crime of secretly marrying Christian couples, who were being persecuted by Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd Century AD.

St Valentine was imprisoned and later beheaded. The martyr was buried at Roman Cemetery on Via Flaminia, the ancient road that dissects Italy from Rome to Rimini.

The celebrations of love will roll into the weekend. For the disappointing delinquents an opportunity to atone for the transgressions of Thursday night. In little known Wii Gweng, 96 year old Mary Luwum and her kinsmen will commemorate a modern day martyr murdered on February 16th 1977 at the hands of a despot.

Janani Luwum was consecrated as Bishop of Northern Uganda in January 1969. As a charismatic ululated in praise to multitudes of congregants, seated peacefully amongst attendees was Prime Minister of Uganda Milton Obote and his Chief of Staff of the Army Idi Amin Dada. In 1974 Luwum was elected Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga, an Anglican province in present day DRC. Three years before, Amin had overthrown Obote’s government in favour of a military dictatorship. Amin’s rulership is infamous for gross human rights abuses and mysterious disappearance of thousands of Ugandans.  Archbishop Luwum through his sharp criticism toiled tirelessly to mitigate the unsavoury effects of Amin’s brutality. On February 12, 1977 Luwum delivered a protest to Amin against all acts of violence. Tensions between the church and government culminated in a raid on the Archbishop’s house on trumped up charges of attempting to oust Amin.

The Archbishop along with Ministers Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi were publicly arraigned in a show trial accused of smuggling arms.  All denied the charges to no avail. On the morning of February 17, 1977, it was announced that Archbishop Luwum had died in a car crash.

Government’s version is that one of the prisoners tried to gain control of the vehicle which led to an accident that killed the passengers.  Villagers opened the sealed coffin and discovered bullet holes. Saint Janani Luwum was buried fittingly at St Paul’s Church graveyard at Wii Gweng village in Mucwini under the barricades of the military and only two close relatives.

St. Valentine and St. Luwum revered natural harmony. The Saints possessed wisdom to perceive justice and temperance which gave meaning and purpose to love and life. The broad spectrum of their deeds ranged from warm thoughts of endearment in Valentine; to agape – the love of God – as epitomised by St Luwum. In the letter to the Corinthians, St Paul leaves no room for agape to be anything less than attending to the needs of others (Corinthians 13: 4-8).

Many similarities exist between the trials of Jesus Christ and St. Paul. Both were both arrested by Jewish mobs and handed to Roman authorities – Pontius Pilate and Festus – respectively. When the Roman governors found neither guilty (Luke 23:15 & Acts 26:31) they were sent to Kings Herod and Agrippa with greater judicial jurisdiction. Although both Jesus Christ and Paul were sentenced, the latter’s sentence was never carried out.

Society suffers betrayal beyond comprehension when unimaginable harm is dished by high standing and trusted figures of authority. Leaders who seek unilateral power over others have brought those unsparing in their criticisms to cruelty and violence. Unaddressed wrongs require a moral response in the form of self-sacrifice. St. Luwum suffered the wrath of brutal ruler for acting morally.

Inspired by Zechariah 11: 4-6 Philosopher Joseph De Maistre preaches, ‘every country has the government it deserves’. It was the priests and bishops of then who were the first to hand over their watchdog in St Luwum for persecution. Against the sound judgment of Pontius Pilate to release Jesus Christ it was the crowd that screamed “Crucify Him”. On that fateful morning of February 16th 1977, an energised Amin asked the crowd what to do with the alleged traitors in St Luwum and the two Ministers. The reply was a raucous, ‘kill them now’!

Disasters don’t happen overnight. The first tell-tale sign of tyranny in waiting is the hard-hearted nature destitute in knowledge of governing. Their progression gravitates to sponsoring hired lackeys against those critical of misrule with militarised crackdown on alternate voices. There were those inextricably intertwined to the rule of Amin. Modern day politics calls them bootlickers. Warning signs were ignored until Amin became unassailable.

Such discharge of prejudice and bias harms society. It cannot be comparable to the forlorn lover whose partner disappeared on Valentine’s Day. The world bears the hallmarks of deep scars, some of which remain invisible to the eyes of history. St. Janani Luwum is a metaphor for many of Africa’s unsung icons who remain unpopular in the realm of heroes and heroines worthy of being celebrated for self-sacrifice. How many are out there?

And if you failed to see the similarities between of the tribulations of St Luwum and those of St Paul, then you ought to read this again.

When a house breaks, it can easily be built. But when a country breaks, it is forever. But, humanity has shown that people who have been hurt the most have the greatest ability to heal. Valentine’s Day celebrates love between man and woman – eros. This erotic love is enveloped by a greater one - the love of God.

Mama Mary Luwum and her children should tell us that her husband, St Janani

Luwum loved Uganda so much that…

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