Celebratory messages of love and appreciation for Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu poured in from across the world on the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s 90th birthday on Oct. 7.
A week’s worth of events culminated on his birthday with the 11th Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture delivered this year by four global leaders.
They included the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s highest spiritual leader; women’s and children’s rights activist Graça Machel; chair of The Elders and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and South Africa’s former public protector, Thuli Madonsela. Each explored the topic “Speaking Truth to Power: No Future Without Justice” from their personal vantage points.
“It is clear,” said Piyushi Kotecha, chief executive officer of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation. “There can be no just future if those who believe in peace and justice do not continue to speak truth to power. The world is too often a broken place. It’s very brokenness must propel us into action.
“We find ourselves at the juncture between two worlds: an old world led by unscrupulous political figures and self-serving economic interests, and one led by young activists who have social, environmental and women’s rights in their sight. The courage to heal is vital,” she said.
The lecture addresses were interspersed by performances by American cellist Yo-Yo Ma and South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, who performed a rendition of the well-known hymn Ibuyile I’Africa, and by the Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir.
Over the years the Archbishops’ groundbreaking roles have been well reported: the first Black secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches leading a Christian membership of more than 13 million (80% Black), the first Black Bishop of Johannesburg and first Black Archbishop of Cape Town, together with his post-retirement appointments by President Mandela as chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and The Elders.
Less well known is the Arch’s prominent global influence in volatile hotspots as he worked for peace and justice, from 1982 until more than two decades after his ostensible retirement in 1996, always seeking to instill hope in times of crisis and despair and keeping faith in the indivisibility of justice.
“I join the world in celebrating his life of service and contributions to humanity,” said President Joe Biden in a message, adding that he had been “honored” to meet and spend time with the Arch on several occasions over the years. Hollywood stars Samuel L Jackson, Alfre Woodard and Paulette Woodard paid tribute to one of the world’s most iconic prelates. “It’s one thing to stand up again and again against injustice, no matter the personal danger, and to speak the difficult, painful truth not only to your oppressors, but also to your friends. But to do all that while maintaining a sense of humor and with genuine love in your heart––who can do that? Desmond Tutu.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa also paid tribute to Tutu for his “role as a fighter in the cause for human rights, for equality and for social justice in the 59 years since his ordination.” Later, at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town with about 150 family members and guests, a sermon was delivered by the Rev. Allan Boesak, former president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. “You have seen it all. But you have always given us hope,” Boesak said. “You have always spoken to our hearts. And you are still speaking to us today through your life.”