Tutu: Forgive and begin to heal

The retired archbishop says the United States bears wounds from its own past injustices.

Published January 20, 2006

TAMPA - Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu drew more than 4,000 people to the University of South Florida Sun Dome on Thursday for a lecture that urged forgiveness, no matter how deep the wounds.

Admirers began arriving two hours before the doors opened.

For Frank Flores of Tampa, it would be the eighth or ninth time he had heard the retired South African archbishop speak.

"I like his philosophy," Flores said, as he sat on a bench outside the arena.

Adrienne Baksa of Tarpon Springs and her friend Ruth Delaplane from Oldsmar waited with cookies, salty snacks, bottles of water and a biography of Tutu.

"How could I not come when Desmond Tutu is going to be speaking?" asked Baksa, a Buddhist leader. "I want to be in the same room."

"I think we have so few truly great and good spiritual leaders in this world that to have an opportunity to have him in the same area is an opportunity I wouldn't pass up," Delaplane said, who likened Tutu to Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama and Ghandi.

But Tutu, who sprinkled his speech with bits of humor and thanked those who had helped South Africans achieve their freedom, instead heaped praise on Nelson Mandela.

"He set an incredible example of magnaminity and nobility of spirit," he said, alluding to the leader's capacity to forgive.

And, he added, South Africa's example of forgiveness has made the country "a beacon of hope" around the globe for others who are moving from oppression to democracy.

The country defied conventional wisdom, which predicted that when blacks took power there would be "the most awful orgy of retribution and revenge" against their white oppressors, he said.

Instead, the world watched incredulously as the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission did its work, said Tutu, who was chairman of the group. The commission's work included listening to victims, black and white, recount the horrors of the apartheid system and hearing them choose to forgive rather than seek revenge.

Tutu said his experience on the commission was sometimes like standing on holy ground.

"Forgiveness, it doesn't mean pretending that things weren't as they were," he told the crowd of over 4,000. "Forgiveness is deeply, deeply hopeful ... Forgiveness does not believe that once a murderer, always a murderer. It gives the other an opportunity of a new beginning."

To forgive is to emulate God, he said.

Tutu admitted that it is easier to forgive someone who says they are sorry, but urged forgiveness even for those who do not ask.

America could use a process like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation commission, he said.

"You need to come to terms with the legacy of slavery" and the displacement of Native Americans, he said, drawing applause.

"The wound is not healed. It is festering ... Take the risk of opening the wound, of cleaning the wound and this country will reach unprecedented height."

He ended by telling the audience that all humans are interconnected.

"God has created us not so we can be separate ... We are made so that we need the other," he said. "We in South Africa have shown that it's important for enemies to become friends."

Born in 1931, Tutu became the first black to serve as Archbishop of Cape Town, which made him head of the Anglican Church in South Africa.

Among those attending Thursday's lecture was Bishop John B. Lipscomb, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida. The Episcopal Church is part of the 77-million worldwide Anglican Communion to which Tutu belongs.

Minutes before the retired archbishop was to speak, Lipscomp spoke about what he hoped Tutu's message would convey.

"I hope what he reminds us is that the work of God is to repair the world in which we live and that begins by repairing relationships," Lipscomb said.