He has always been a symbol of courage and moral clarity in South Africa and now Bishop Desmond Tutu has been honored with the world’s top religion honor, the Templeton Prize, which carries an award of $1.7 million.
The John Templeton Foundation, based in Pennsylvania, said Tutu was being honored for advancing the “spiritual liberation” of people around the world. The 81-year-old former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town was a ferocious voice for the liberation of black South Africans during the horrors of apartheid.
In his typically humble way, Tutu said that he had so many others to thank for the honor.
“I want to say a very big thank you but I would also like to acknowledge the fact that, you know, 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, and therefore if you will let me, 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,” he said.
A leading voice of the anti-apartheid movement when leaders like Nelson Mandela were still in jail, Tutu went on to chair the groundbreaking Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid ended, attempting to bring a sense of restorative justice to the nation.
A deep, probing thinker, Tutu has admitted sometimes feeling angry with God. His most recent book carries the provocative title, “God is Not a Christian.”
The Templeton Award went to Mother Theresa in its founding year of 1973 and last year was given to the Dalai Lama. The prize was conceived by the American-born British stock investor Sir John Templeton, who felt that the Nobel Prize incorrectly excluded religion. That’s why he stipulated that the monetary amount should always exceed that of the Nobel Prize.
The Foundation praised Tutu for “his exceptional contributions to exemplifying a new and larger, living model of the benefits of religion and spiritual progress.”
“The judges noted that Archbishop Tutu’s steadfastness to core Christian principles such as love and forgiveness has broken chains of hurt, pain and all-too-common instincts for revenge, and instead, has advanced the spiritual liberation of people around the world,” said John Templeton Jr., president and chairman of the foundation. “As a leading moral voice for love, peace and justice, Desmond Tutu, in extending hands of a common brotherhood, is one of the world’s most revered religious leaders … during the 1970s and 1980s, he helped to focus global attention on the apartheid policies of South Africa, a dehumanizing process of subverting God’s equal love for all.”
Tutu retired from public life in 2010, but hasn’t stopped speaking out against the wrongs that he sees committed in South Africa. He will receive the prize at a ceremony at London’s Guildhall on May 21. Cape Town will hold its own celebration on April 11 at St. George’s Cathedral, which became known as “the people’s cathedral” when he served there as archbishop from 1986 to 1996.