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The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, the iconic spiritual leader and South African anti-apartheid activist cherished the world over, graced Indianapolis on Thursday night with a spirited address to about 2,100 onlookers gathered at Clowes Hall. His remarks arrived on the heels of an announcement made by the presidents of both Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary—James M. Danko and Matthew Myer Boulton, respectively—that they have created the Desmond Tutu Center, a collaborative academic center and the first of its kind in North America to be named after the archbishop. Danko called the center "a living library for students." When Tutu himself took to the microphone, he said, "I am actually completely bowled over. ... One of the benefits of a complexion like mine is that nobody notices when you are blushing."
Allan Aubrey Boesak, Tutu's longtime friend and comrade in the struggle for apartheid's end in South Africa will serve as the founding chair for peace, global justice, and reconciliation studies at the Desmond Tutu Center. He introduced the archbishop first with these words: "There once was a boy. He was born in 1931. The boy was bright; he had a stubborn streak." That boy became a young man, a high school teacher and then a seminary student. (He is now retired from the Anglican Church.)
Boesak noted that his friendship with Tutu extends over more than 50 years, and that now, "our friendship will be solidified in something more than days of the past." Boesak said of Tutu, "His greatest gift is that he could see first what others could not see." Amos Brown of Radio One then introduced the Indianapolis Children's Choir, noting that one of the archbishop's favorite things is children singing, before the newly announced Archbishop Emeritus Tutu rather unceremoniously appeared onstage and acknowledged the choir's children at length before stepping up—sporting a right-leg boot cast, no less—to the podium that he soon transformed into a pulpit.
Tutu captivated his congregation of sorts, for 42 minutes regaling attendees with tales of anti-apartheid action and thoughts on American life, religion, world leaders. He spoke slowly and deliberately, sometimes injecting his words with giddy chuckles and un-self-conscious yelps of laughter that made him appear nearly childlike.
Perhaps most compelling and even revelatory were his words about inclusion—by God and by fellow humans—of all people, regardless of race, socio-economic status, religion, and even sexual orientation. He generated raucous laughter early on with a winking nod to his anti-apartheid activism, addressing Indianapolis City-County Council president Maggie Lewis: "Thank you for the police escort. It's so wonderful not to have the police chasing you." Later, he gave his pointed opinion about the devastated state of Syrian citizens today, admonishing American and global leaders to "drop food, not bombs" on that ravaged nation.
Here are more excerpts from his statements:
The occasion did not mark Tutu's first appearance in Indianapolis. That came in May 2002, when he delivered the commencement address at Butler and was awarded a degree and a title, Doctor of Humane Letters. He noted in his address to this throng that he is an alumnus of the university.
The Thursday-night event was sponsored by the Dungy Family Foundation, also a founding partner of the new center. Brown, the Radio One personality, served as emcee for the event, greeting the expectant crowd and moderating a brief roundtable discussion—overwhelmingly featuring more of the archbishop's sage statements—after all the leaders had spoken formally.
Photos courtesy Butler University
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