South African retired Anglican archbishop and anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu celebrated his 85th birthday Friday presiding over eucharist at his home church in Cape Town, an AFP photographer said.
He paid a moving tribute to St George’s Cathedral before laying his head on the communion table and briefly wept.
“I have reached the stage in life when I am closer to the departure than arrivals hall,” said Tutu, who was discharged from hospital late last month for the treatment of a nagging infection.
“I have indicated that when the time comes I would like to rest here, permanently, with you,” he told the worshippers.
Tutu’s fondly referred to as the Arch, has spent time in hospital several times since last year for a nagging infection.
One reason for his hospitalisation has been an infection resulting from the prostate cancer treatment he has been receiving for nearly 20 years.
Tutu, who became the first black Anglican archbishop of Cape Town in 1986, had a cup of tea with the congregants after the Friday morning service.
President Jacob Zuma and the last apartheid leader F.W. de Klerk, led tributes to Tutu.
In a statement Zuma said Tutu “has contributed immensely to the freedom and democratic dispensation” of South Africa.
“He continues to inspire the nation and the world in the promotion of human rights, justice and the wellbeing of all especially the poor,” said Zuma.
De Klerk and his foundation wished Tutu “the best of health in the year ahead,” and acknowledged “his valuable role as a peacemaker, as well as his contribution towards goodwill between all South Africans, and towards South Africa’s constitutional democracy.”
Ordained at the age of 30 and appointed archbishop in 1986, Tutu used his position to advocate for international sanctions against white-minority rule in South Africa, and later to lobby for rights globally.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.