South Africa Pays Tribute to ‘Moral Giant’ Tutu

By Andrew Meldrum | Associated press

CAPE TOWN, South Africa – On Friday, South Africans from all over the ‘Rainbow Nation’ of retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu marched past his plain pine casket to pay homage to his life activism for the equality of all races, beliefs and sexual orientations.

“He was a moral giant. He was a moral and spiritual giant loved and revered for fighting for the equality of all, ”said Reverend Michael Lapsley, on the steps of historic St. George’s Cathedral after Tutu’s coffin was carried in the middle music, incense and prayers.

Anglican clergy – women and men, black and white, young and old – lined the streets to honor the procession carrying Tutu’s body to church. Members of the Tutu family accompanied the coffin into the cathedral.

People started parading through the High Cathedral to light candles and see the simple little coffin with rope handles that Tutu said he wanted to avoid ostentation or lavish expense. Many sat on the benches to pray and reflect on Tutu’s life.

More than 2,000 people visited the cathedral on the first day of the visit Thursday and Friday, the line stretched for more than a kilometer (almost a mile). A requiem mass for Tutu will be held on New Years Day before he is cremated and his remains are placed in a columbarium in the cathedral.

“His work did not stop with the end of apartheid,” said Lapsley, referring to the racially oppressive regime in South Africa which Tutu strongly opposed and which ended in 1994 when the South Africa held democratic elections.

“Archbishop Tutu courageously stood up for equality for all. He transformed the church by bringing women into the clergy. He has stood up for the LGBTQ community, for which he is a hero around the world, ”said Lapsley, Canon of Healing at the Cathedral.

An anti-apartheid militant priest whose hands and one eye were gouged out by a letter bomb sent by South African agents in 1994, Lapsley said Tutu had helped him find reconciliation and a new role in the church.

One of the first women priests ordained by Tutu, Reverend Wilma Jakobsen, said Tutu radically changed the Anglican Church in South Africa.

“The face of the church has changed. It has women priests and women in leadership positions. There are people of all colors. Our church welcomes LGBTQ people. This is all thanks to the leadership of Archbishop Tutu, ”said Jakobsen, who was Tutu’s personal chaplain when he was Archbishop.

During the height of apartheid, Tutu mixed all races in the church, Jakobsen said.

“I was intentionally placed in Mitchells Plain and other white priests were intentionally placed in black communities. And black priests were intentionally placed in white communities, ”Jakobsen said. “Archbishop Tutu didn’t wait for approval to do it, he just did. It was a direct challenge to the apartheid regime.

Among those who viewed Tutu’s coffin on Friday was Mohamed De Bruyn.

“It was very emotional for me,” said De Bruyn. “I could feel his great soul in that little wooden box… He was like Moses. He took our nation out of all this sadness and sorrow. “

Vuyo Wara said Tutu “was a great leader. He fought corruption. I just hope that our current leaders will take over from him and follow his principles in the future. ”

After viewing on Friday, Tutu’s body will be left alone overnight in the cathedral, “a place he loved,” according to a statement from Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba.

The cathedral, the oldest Anglican church in southern Africa, dating from 1847, is a testament to the changes encouraged by Tutu. The Crypt Memory and Witness Center offers public education programs to encourage healing and social justice.

The graceful stone structure built by British colonialists under Table Mountain in Cape Town has been converted by Tutu into a center of anti-apartheid activity. When the apartheid regime banned political gatherings, Tutu held meetings in the cathedral where attendees ostensibly bowed their heads to pray and hear political speeches. Nelson Mandela called it the “cathedral of the people”.

With her gray hair pulled back in a purple tinted ponytail and wearing a brightly colored rainbow mask, Reverend Maria Claassen said she was paying homage to Tutu.

“He was a very humble man, but sitting in the same room with him, you could feel the strength of his presence, of his beliefs,” said Claassen, an Anglican priest from the Durbanville region of Cape Town. “He inspired us and now we celebrate his life. “

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