Anniversary: South African Centennial Includes Interfaith Milestones

Archbishop Desmond TutuMONDAY, MAY 31: While millions of Americans are marking Memorial Day, we must note that today is an important day in another part of the world, too: South Africa. On this date in 1910, the Union of South Africa was created. Although many regard the formation of the Union as a negative event, due to its history of racial inequity (read a detailed history at Wikipedia), many South Africans are using the occasion to focus on the Republic of South Africa’s progress toward equity, justice and religious diversity. According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, religion has specifically played an important part in this process.

In 1999, two significant interfaith events happened in South Africa: one, the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative was organized; and two, Cape Town hosted the 1999 Parliament of the World’s Religions. On May 20 of this year, the Interfaith Initiative celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and on the same day, Archbishop Tutu addressed the bid cities for the 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions. (Read more from the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.) In his speech, Archbishop Tutu emphasized the “critical importance” that the Parliament had—and still has—on the city of Cape Town. The Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Parliament council, explained his strong support: “Since his extraordinary leadership in the effort to dismantle Apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu has been an icon of the interreligious movement. With the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, Desmond Tutu has been in the forefront of the ongoing task to create a more just and equitable society in South Africa. Like Archbishop Tutu, we are immensely proud of the role the 1999 Cape Town Parliament played in this historic process of national reconciliation.”

As part of the May 20 celebrations, another interfaith element was brought to Cape Town: the Charter for Compassion. (More on this event is at the Charter for Compassion website.) In 2009, Charter for Compassion creator Karen Armstrong worked with Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama to promote this interfaith appeal for peace. The charter “lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions,” according to Armstrong, in that we should treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. More than 47,000 people around the world have affirmed the charter so far, and as of May 20, it was launched in South Africa.

ReadTheSpirit is involved in all of this, including our co-sponsorship of the Charter for Compassion. And, we’ve just published an important series of articles about recent work Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu have been doing with “Made for Goodness,” their new book sharing South African wisdom on finding courage, goodness and joy in daily life.

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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