CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died on December 26, made his career as a cleric in the Anglican Church, but at one point was said to have considered the Catholic priesthood. Instead, he got married in a Catholic church.
Born October 7, 1931, in Klerksdorp as one of four children of Zachariah, a teacher, and Aletta, a domestic worker, Desmond Mpilo Tutu’s first exposure to Christianity was held in the African Methodist Episcopal Church frequented by his parents. But he fell in love with Nomalizo Leah Shenxane, a Catholic. The two were married on July 2, 1955 in the Mary Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church in Johannesburg.
Father Oblate Jean Verot officiated. In the marriage register, kept in Latin, Father Verot notes that it is a “mixed marriage”, mentioning Leah as Catholic and Desmond as Protestant.
The two had four children together. The oldest, Trevor, was named after the Anglican Father (later Archbishop) Trevor Huddleston, who had a great influence on Tutu. The second was called Thandeka Theresa Ursula; the two middle names were a nod to Leah’s Catholic origins. The family worshiped in St. Paul’s Anglican Church, where Desmond played several lay roles.
There he found his calling and studied at St. Peter’s Theology College in Johannesburg before being ordained an Anglican priest in 1960. His final report from the university praised his exceptional skills and intelligence, but also noted that he “seemed to be in pain. ‘a touch of’ Roman Fever. “The report recommended that” maybe his bishop would do well to ask him about it before ordination. “
The apparent affliction of “Roman fever” hinted that Tutu was showing signs of adherence to the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church, as noted by South African biographer John Allen in his 2006 biography of the Archbishop, “Rabble-Rouser for Peace”.
This flirtation with Catholic practices continued even after Archbishop Tutu was appointed bishop. When he was appointed general secretary of the South African Council of Churches in 1978, he introduced staff prayer meetings, retreats and the like. Her daily prayer routine remained one of disciplined devotion, including the Eucharist in the morning and the Angelus at noon, with Ave Maria.
Bishop Tutu had great devotion to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, whose spirituality was rooted in prayer.
“Since I’m not part of the Catholic tradition, I think my interest in it indicates that it has ecumenical appeal,” he once said. “She encourages us to understand the importance of turning in on oneself for inner peace, of seeking solitude, silence and expectation, of being with God. It must not have been easy to achieve such an important position in the church at a time when women were often seen rather than heard, ”he said in the 2018 book,“ Beautiful Thoughts for fine spirits ”by John Scally.
Archbishop Tutu’s social and political commitments were based on what he saw as the gospel mandate. In this, he followed the path set by older Christian leaders, including Catholic Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban, who in 1958 pushed the Catholic Church to be the first church body to declare the racist system of apartheid a “structural sin”. Archbishop Tutu would later say that Archbishop Hurley, a tall man, was the giant “on whose shoulders we stood.”
Archbishop Tutu visited the Pretoria courthouse where Archbishop Hurley was indicted in 1985 for exposing atrocities committed by the apartheid regime in what is now Namibia. From the wharf, Archbishop Hurley did not address the tribunal, but during breaks he spoke with supporters, jokingly inviting Archbishop Tutu and Leah to join him on the wharf. The charges against Archbishop Hurley were dropped even before the trial began.
After becoming Archbishop of Cape Town in 1985, Archbishop Tutu – along with Catholic Archbishop Stephen Naidoo and Reverend Allan Boesak – formed a trinity of church negotiators to defuse crises in Cape Town. After police gunfire in Cape Town killed more than 20 people on election night in September 1989, Archbishop Tutu prayed intensely and unilaterally decided to call a protest march which began at St. George.
In place, newly elected President Frederick W. de Klerk authorized the march to proceed. Some 35,000 “Rainbow People”, as Archbishop Tutu called them that day, attended. According to De Klerk, this march pushed apartheid over the cliff.
By then, Tutu had already received the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1984. In 1987, he received a prestigious Catholic honor: the Pacem in Terris Prize, named after the historic encyclical of Saint John XXIII on the peace on earth.
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Simmermacher is editor-in-chief of The Southern Cross, Cape Town.