AS people across the world awoke on St Stephen’s Day, they were greeted with the sad news that Archbishop Desmond Tutu had passed away.
The Archbishop, a champion of human rights, a peace and reconciliation activist and a much-loved figure around the world, died aged 90 years old following a battle with prostrate cancer.
During his ministry, Tutu, pictured below, rose to prominence due to his work in the abolishment of apartheid and the campaigning for human rights for the black community in South Africa.
It was through this work that the Archbishop forged a close friendship with President of South Africa Nelson Mandela and saw him receive numerous accolades, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984,
The Archbishop visited Northern Ireland twenty years ago in 2001.
Newtownbutler priest Fr Gary Donegan remembers meeting the South African during his visit to Ardoyne, during the height of the conflict at the Holy Cross primary school.
“You felt you had been in the presence of somebody that was truly special and someone who left an indelible mark on anybody met,” recalls Fr Gary.
Speaking to BBC Good Morning Ulster, the Newtownbutler cleric recounts how Tutu ‘lived up to everything’ and never shied away from conflict or controversy.
“Up until 9/11, Holy Cross was basically the biggest story in the world at the time. It was going out 24/6. He [Bishop Desmond Tutu] was obviously ware of it and he was visiting. We were led to believe he was advised not to get involved.
“This man felt that if he could be in any way helped and so he got right in there. You kind of felt that this man was different.”
During his visit to Ardoyne, Desmond Tutu spent time speaking to the children who were caught in the middle of the conflict.
“He went into the assembly hall and he switched from this serious man, thinking ‘what can I actually do, with all the experience I have in negotiations and facing reconciliation’ – he suddenly turned and the children were mesmorised.
“He was jumping about, singing and dancing. He had the children in the palm of his hand. We were like children looking at him.
“This man had a charisma. he had an aura about him that was just different.”
Desmond Tutu had a long standing relationship with Northern Ireland and made many visits.
He publically issued his support for the Good Friday Agreement.
Tributes have poured in right across the globe for the human rights activist.
Chris McCaffrey, vice chairman of the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, passed on his condolences to the ‘true humanitarian.’
“The world has lost a true humanitarian today after the passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, teacher, Novel Peace Prize winner and Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission who helped to end the injustice of apartheid in South Africa.
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