Tutu accepts award, lights up Pavilion

Andrea Wilson

Crowds of people of all ages and occupations poured into the Pavilion on Oct. 7 to hear the words of prominent South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, this year’s recipient of the Adela Dwyer-St. Thomas of Villanova Peace Award. Tutu’s contributions to the anti-apartheid movement in his country throughout recent decades have made him a world-renowned figure in the struggle for justice on the African continent and the rest of the world.

After a musical prelude performed by the Villanova Gospel Singers and a prayer delivered by senior Kathleen Krackenberger, the leader of a student service trip to Vietnam, the South African peace activist was introduced by Dr. Maghan Keita of the departments of Africana Studies, Arab and Islamic Studies and History.

“Take note of this moment, then allow the moment and the message to prophesy how much farther we can go,” Keita told the audience.

Dr. William Werpehowski, director of the Center for Peace and Justice Education, presented the award and, while explaining why Tutu was chosen, joked about Tutu’s previous reception of “that more famous peace prize,” referring to the Nobel Peace Prize, which he received in 1984 for his “non-violent struggle … to bring [South Africa] out of conflict and crisis.”

As the small 73-year-old man appeared on stage to receive the award, an audience of thousands greeted him with a roaring standing ovation. His stature is in stark contrast with his life’s work, the basis of his selection by the University for the Peace Award.

The prize, established in 1990 by the Center for Peace and Justice Education, has been awarded annually to individuals and organizations who have led peace and justice causes, including controversial Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist Noam Chomsky and death row prisoner advocate Helen Prejean, C.S.J., whose life inspired the 1995 film “Dead Man Walking.”

In 1978, Tutu began service as the first black general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. He then began demanding equal rights and education for all South Africans, pushing for nonviolent methods like an economic boycott to achieve these goals. After serving as Archbishop of Cape Town, in 1994 he was chosen by Nelson Mandela to serve as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, instituted to investigate and resolve cases of human rights violations under the apartheid regime.

Tutu made a special note of the contributions American college students made toward causes of justice on the African continent, by volunteering and demonstrating to change the moral climate of their societies.

“When students ought to be worried about exams and grades … they were so incredibly committed to the apartheid struggle,” he said. “We hope there will be young people who say, ‘Hey, this is not what the struggle was about.'”

Tutu criticized the war on terror, saying that terror will continue to exist “as long as there are conditions that make people desperate.” Responding to a question about what Americans can do to fight injustice around the world, he commended American generosity, but added, “Why don’t you export that generosity, and not bombs?”

He asked the audience to give special applause for Americans who helped bring about change in his home country. The crowd responded with another standing ovation.

“Who could have ever imagined that South Africa could become a beacon of hope? If it is possible in South Africa, it is possible anywhere,” he said.

The event was sponsored by a host of University groups, along with Catholic Relief Services and 10 other neighboring colleges, that are members of the Greater Philadelphia College and University Peace & Justice Consortium.

According to Dr. Suzanne Toton, “CRS and the Consortium were happy to contribute to and participate in the Tutu event because it marked the start of the CRS/Consortium Africa Campaign.”

“This partnership … is a ‘first’ in the nation,” she wrote. “Sponsorship by a consortium of ten universities and CRS is a first for Villanova and, I suspect, for any university in our geographic area.”