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Touches of simplicity, humour – and jazz – at the Arch’s requiem mass at St George’s Cathedral

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s requiem mass may have been a sombre high-church occasion, but it was also one replete with the touches of simplicity, humour, humility, intimacy and even quotes from Billie Holiday jazz classics. Picture: GCIS

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s requiem mass may have been a sombre high-church occasion, but it was also one replete with the touches of simplicity, humour, humility, intimacy and even quotes from Billie Holiday jazz classics. Picture: GCIS

Published Jan 3, 2022

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Cape Town - Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s requiem mass may have been a sombre high-church occasion, but it was also one replete with the touches of simplicity, humour, humility, intimacy and even quotes from Billie Holiday jazz classics.

The ceremony took place in St George’s Cathedral, which in apartheid times Tutu turned into centre of Struggle against racial injustice

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Among those who said prayers during the mass, were Tutu’s daughter Reverend Mpho Tutu, Archbishop Tutu Trust chairperson Dr Mamphela Ramphele, former first lady and human rights activist Graça Machel and former Irish president Mary Robinson.

In the eulogy, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “If Tutu were here he would have said: ’Hey why are you looking so glum?’ He would have wanted to elicit a smile and a laugh from all of us.”

The president ended with a quote which he said he thought provided a fitting end to any tribute to Tutu: “Tears are sometimes an inappropriate response to death.

“When a life has been lived completely honestly, completely successfully, or just completely, the correct response to death’s perfect punctuation mark, is a smile.”

The eulogy was followed by the handing over of the national flag to the widow Mama Leah Tutu. This was the only militaristic part of the funeral.

Earlier, the Dean of St George’s Cathedral, Michael Weeder, quoted the jazz singer Billie Holiday saying she could have been referencing Tutu when she sang: “Like the wind that shakes the bough/He moves me with a smile.”

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The youngest member of the Church Lads and Girls Brigade band, four-year-old Alex Williams, plays a trumpet as the body of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu's body arrives to lie in repose for the second day. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Tutu’s daughter Reverend Nontombi Naomi Tutu gave the family’s thanks and apologised on behalf of them all for their having been unable to respond to all the condolence messages, prayers and good wishes that they had received, saying they had been overwhelmed.

“Many of the messages said thank you for sharing him with the world, but it was actually a two-way street, because while we shared him with the world, you shared part of the love you held for him with us, and so we are thankful.”

In a video message, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “For myself or any Archbishop of Canterbury to give a tribute to the Archbishop, is like a mouse giving tribute to an elephant.”

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