Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, has been awarded this year’s 2013 Templeton Prize, the world’s largest annual prize, which “honours a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” According to today’s announcement from the U.S.-based John Templeton Foundation, Archbishop Tutu was chosen to receive the prize, valued at about U.S.$1.7 million for his “life-long work in advancing spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness, which has helped to liberate people around the world.”
The prize announcement cited his “stalwart-and successful-opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime.” His message of love and forgiveness and deep contemplation of questions about the moral nature of the universe and humanity’s duty to fulfill God’s purposes reflect the deep interests of the late Sir John Templeton, founder of the Templeton Prize, the announcement noted.
“Desmond Tutu calls upon all of us to recognize that each and every human being is unique in all of history and, in doing so, to embrace our own vast potential to be agents for spiritual progress and positive change,” said Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president and chairman of the foundation, in a video statement released on www.templetonprize.org. “Not only does he teach this idea, he lives it,” he added.
Archbishop Tutu responded to news of the prize in another videotaped message, saying: “When you are in a crowd and you stand out from the crowd, it’s usually because you are being carried on the shoulders of others.” In that light, he added, “I want to acknowledge all the wonderful people who accepted me as their leader at home and so to accept this prize, as it were, in a representative capacity.”
The archbishop also spoke of his faith. “We inhabit a universe…where kindness matters, compassion maters, caring matters, sharing,” he said. “This is a moral universe and right and wrong matter. And mercifully, gloriously, right will prevail.”
The prize announcement includes a biography that recounts some of Archbishop Tutu’s achievements, including his decades-long efforts to oppose apartheid and the way he used his position within the church to draw global attention to the injustice in South Africa. In 1989, he led a protest in Cape Town that drew about 30,000 people and was a catalyst for more protests across the country. In the 1990s, he helped guide South Africa’s transition to democracy, chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which called for confession, forgiveness and, where possible, restitution. In 2007, Tutu helped found The Elders, an independent group of former global leaders including former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who work for peace and human rights in trouble spots around the world.
The current Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd. Dr. Thabo Makgoba offered hearty congratualations to Archbishop Tutu on behalf of the whole Anglican Church of Southern Africa. “We fully endorse the Foundation’s view that he has made “exceptional contributions to exemplifying a new and larger, living model of the benefits of religion and spiritual progress.
“Archbishop Desmond is one of the spiritual giants of our times – though he will tease me for saying so, given that I am so much taller than him!” joked Archbishop Thabo. “The greatest lesson we should learn from him is that his life is steeped in prayer, and these deep wells resource all that he does, giving him a particular gift for expressing profound truths with great simplicity. During our darkest, bleakest, hours, he was able to see the bigger picture – the picture that we remember in this Easter season, that good will always prevail – and so he gave us a vision of hope for abundant life for everyone, transformed through God’s promises. It is a vision with which he continues to challenge the whole world today. We need to hear that challenge, and I hope this prize will encourage him to keep on raising his voice where it needs to be heard.”
A celebration will be held on Thursday, April 11 in Cape Town at St. George’s Cathedral. The site has become known as “the people’s cathedral” for its role in the fight against apartheid when Archbishop Tutu served there from 1986 to 1996.
The prize will be officially presented at a public ceremony in London on May 21.
-with files from Anglican Communion New Service