Editor’s Note • Desmond Tutu – the small but powerful Anglican archbishop in search of justice, peace and forgiveness – died in South Africa on Sunday at the age of 90. In 2002, he came to Utah for the 2002 Winter Games (and helped carry the Olympic flag). During this visit, he spoke with Salt Lake Tribune religious reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack. Here is his story from that interview:
Behind the scenes at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, gazed at the large, cream-colored jacket.
The tailored coat would eclipse Tutu, one of eight distinguished celebrities wearing the Olympic flag in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
But the 5-foot-4 Anglican cleric simply shrugged his shoulders, pulled it over his other jacket and, turning to a volunteer, asked, “Do I look like a woman?” rock star? “
David Profeta of San Pedro, Calif., Wardrobe supervisor for the opening and closing ceremonies, smiled and nodded.
“He was funny and grateful, absolutely the most charming man I have ever met,” Profeta said. “To be one of the most influential men of the 20th century and at the same time so genuine is just amazing.”
These qualities were widely demonstrated during Tutu’s week-long stay in Utah, where he participated in panel discussions on human rights and the potential of sport to help refugees; presided over an episcopal service at St. Mark’s Cathedral; and participated in numerous media interviews.
One minute he was speaking passionately about the need for Western countries to wipe off Africa’s massive debt and the horrors of women enslaved in prostitution, while the next moment he was coming up with a joke of Africa. self-mockery or turned on stage to the rhythm of the drums. These are hard-won traits for the peace activist, who helped bring down South Africa’s apartheid system and presided over the country’s truth and reconciliation hearings, which exposed the atrocities of government and individuals. but did not inflict any sanction.
Tutu has become one of the world’s most visible advocates of forgiveness as a political option, despite the atrocities he has seen.
He traveled to Rwanda in 1995 after the genocide of Tutsis by Hutus in that nation, where he saw skulls with daggers still encrusted outside a church.
“The scene was a deeply disturbing and moving monument to the wickedness that, as human beings, we are able to unleash against other human beings,” Tutu wrote in his 1999 book, “No Future Without sorry “. “I told them that the cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation that had characterized their national history had to be broken and that the only way to do it was to go beyond punitive justice to restorative justice because without she had no future.
But how can America forgive the heinous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?
“Forgiveness is not easy,” Tutu told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Tutu uses his own 46-year-old marriage as an example. “It’s always difficult in the privacy of the bedroom to say ‘Sorry’,” he said. “Yet it is a powerful source of new beginnings. It means, “OK, I’m giving you another chance to make a fresh start. “
If husbands and wives find it difficult, said Tutu, “how much more difficult it becomes for whole communities”.
No matter the pain, however, it is essential.
“In our country, if we had not decided to forgive ourselves, it would have flared up,” he said. “Tit for tat, eye for eye, brings neither stability nor security.
Tutu told Robert Hatch, 13, a youngster from Salt Lake City who is working on a heroes book, his admiration for black American sports figures – Jackie Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson and especially Jesse Owens, a black sprinter who has won the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics despite that country’s preference for white and Aryan youth.
“I like the way he disappointed Hitler,” Tutu said.
For all the depth of his ideas, Tutu is perhaps best known for his lively humor and instinct for the intimacy of touch and gesture. He laughs easily and quickly, and seems to accept the inconvenience of celebrity without hesitation.
After Reebok’s human rights discussion, the panelists started dancing on stage. Confused, Tutu joined the antics.
And when the children of St. Mark’s donned paper miters to greet the Archbishop, he joked, “We have wonderful bishops here” and gave them a series of “hello”.
His eyes shine, Hatch said, “like he’s still thinking of a joke.”
Shortly after the jacket was tried on at the opening ceremony, the US Secret Service closed the elevator at Rice-Eccles Stadium to protect President George W. Bush as he left the rally.
This left the famous flag bearers stranded on the top floor of the stadium with no choice but to descend nine floors – 18 flights – of stairs.
Astronaut John Glenn, former Polish President Lech Walesa and filmmaker Steven Spielberg took the plunge and began to descend. Long after hitting ground level, the 71-year-old Tutu reached the arm of Australian gold medalist Cathy Freeman, who had been waiting to help it. He was out of breath but without complaint.
“He was exactly what I thought he would be,” said Doug Fabrizio of radio KUER, who interviewed Tutu for his hour-long show “Radio West”. “He was overflowing with joy. He pulls back and laughs completely.
Before the start of the interview, Tutu asked Fabrice if he could say a prayer. After Fabrice’s agreement, the South African bishop simply prayed for a good interview.
“He was a man who knew his relationship with God inside out and realized that God wanted him to be happy,” Fabrizio said. “It was my favorite Olympic experience.
A woman whose family welcomed Tutu into their home in Salt Lake City experienced a similar time. While driving in the car, she told the bishop that she was not sure that she believed in God.
“Oh, my dear,” Tutu said, looking her in the eye. “I will take you to heaven with me and then you will believe it.”