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Meet Britain's first black Archbishop

04 Dec 2005

Another black person, another African has entered the annals of history. In a lavish ceremony that married the pomp of the established state church with the colourful energy of African dancers, John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu was sworn in as the 97th Archbishop of York, the second highest post in the Church of England on Wednesday 30th November 2005. Sentamu, who arrived at York Minster carrying a wooden staff made from an olive tree in Bethlehem, was officially anointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans.

Santamu, 56, the sixth of 13 children, was born near Kampala, in Uganda, in 1949. He studied law at Makerere University in Uganda and then worked as a barrister, before becoming a judge in the Uganda High Court. In 1974, his criticism of the Dictator Idi Amin's regime for its human rights violations led to his arrest and departure from Uganda for the UK.

John Mugabi Sentamu, Archbishop of York

He was named in June to take over as Archbishop of York, the church's second-most important position, and he assumed the role on October 5. He was ordained as a priest in 1979 when his friend, the Ugandan Archbishop Janani Luwum, was murdered during the Idi Amin regime. Determined, he vowed to take his place, and was ordained in that same year. Later on, after he moved to England, he served in a succession of London parishes, was appointed Bishop of Stepney in 1996 and Bishop of Birmingham in 2002, where his ministry, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was praised by "Christians of all backgrounds".

Sentamu, who spent 14 years in inner city parishes, worked with two inquiries probing notorious London murders -- the 1993 racist killing of teenager Stephen Lawrence and the stabbing of Nigerian schoolboy Damilola Taylor in 2000. After his appointment was first confirmed as archbishop, Sentamu admitted that he had been the victim of racist threats while sitting on the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black London teenager. He received letters daubed with swastikas and containing excrement. He was also sent a photograph of the murdered boy.

"Under it were the words, ''You are next''," said Dr Sentamu. "It was written in red ink." He passed the photograph and some hateful and menacing letters to the police, though nobody has been charged. However the Church of England''s first black archbishop is an outspoken critic of racism. Sentamu has recently said that he believes the church must face up to racism and the under-representation of minority ethnic groups in its own ranks. He has also criticized the way some members of the Church have spoken about gay people.

It is clear that his reign will be a controversial, revolutionary and time-changing one. Despite the several centuries’ long stand against it, he also advocates for the empowerment and representation of women in priestly positions. According to the Uganda’s leading newspaper, New Vision, Dr. Sentamu said he would be prepared to consecrate women as bishops if the Church of England eventually permitted him to do so.

“No, I don’t see any obstacle to my doing it. I will do what the church feels is right. How can you not say, unless you just concentrate on the gender question, that women cannot be bishops? I cannot logically see that is sustainable.”

In an interview a week before his enthronement he, among other things, called for a rediscovery of English pride and cultural identity, warning that zeal for multiculturalism had sometimes "seemed to imply, wrongly for me, ''let other cultures be allowed to express themselves but do not let the majority culture at all tell us its glories, its struggles, its joys, its pains''."

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