· Vatican City ·

The Pope’s condolences and Cardinal Napier’s recollections

A servant of the Gospel

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30 December 2021

Pope Francis has sent his condolences to the family and loved ones of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who died aged 90 on Sunday, 26 December.

In a telegram sent to Archbishop Peter B. Wells, Apostolic Nuncio in South Africa, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the Pope said he was saddened to learn of the Archbishop’s death. “Mindful of his service to the Gospel through the promotion of racial equality and reconciliation in his native South Africa, his Holiness commends his soul to the loving mercy of Almighty God”, the telegram reads.

The Pope invokes “the divine blessings of peace and consolation in the Lord Jesus” upon all who mourn Archbishop Tutu’s “passing in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection”.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Archbishop emeritus of Durban shared some of his recollections of the late Archbishop Tutu.

On an occasion like this it is normal to want to recount memorable incidents from the life of one we had come to know, respect and like, because of the human being, the person that he was first and foremost. In this case, warm, friendly, most approachable, and rather mischievous!

Then come the memories arising from significant deeds that he had done, significant by their very nature, or by the impact they had on you as a peer and colleague.

A third set of memories is most definitely linked to the political role which the man played, particularly in relation to the future development of the country and nation.

In the case of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I would like to dwell on the third set of memories, his role as a Church Leader, committed to addressing the crucial issues that were shaping the South Africa that the majority was aspiring to become — an independent, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist nation and country. I remember him at his fiery best leading protest marches and demonstrations against apartheid in general or against a particularly abhorrent new direction that the government was taking.

But I also remember the fire with which he spoke as he pleaded with the different leaders of the Liberation Struggle to reconcile their differences for the greater good of the nation! One such example was his convoking of all Black leaders at Bishop’s Court to engage with the Church Leaders towards a common approach summed up in the aspiration referred to above!

Most of all I recall the life-saving role played by Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the Funeral service of Chris Hani. I don’t think the country had ever been closer to a spark that could have triggered a civil war than that occasion. Archbishop Tutu simply focused on mourning a life needlessly lost, and called for prayers and dignified mourning to foster peace and quiet reflection rather than inflame an already volatile situation. He simply repeated his pleas for peace and calm as the best way to testify to the people’s fallen hero, Chris Hani.

But I also remember Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a Church Leader deeply committed to the ecumenical movement, working perseveringly to bring the Churches closer together in order to increase their effectiveness in narrowing the political, economic and especially social divide which threatened to drive our people even further apart.

As I share these thoughts and memories, I am fully aware of the human grief that Archbishop Desmond’s passing has brought to his widow Leah, to his Family and Friends, but also to his Anglican Brothers and Sisters. And so I pass on to them my heartfelt condolences and sympathies.

May he rest in peace.