This morning, I went to a mass of thanksgiving at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town. The mass was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Father Michael Lapsley surviving the explosion of a letter bomb. The letter bomb was sent to him by the Civil Cooperation Bureau, which was a covert, special-operations organization run under the apartheid government. Father Lapsley was targeted because of his affiliation with the ANC (African National Congress), which opposed the apartheid government. Father Lapsley lost his hands and half of his arms. He has metal hooks in place of hands. But, he survived the attack, and continued with his ministry, specifically aiding victims of violence and torture.
Most of the mass was in English, but various prayers and readings were done in Afrikaans and Xhosa. Several songs were in Xhosa. The bulletin had every prayer and song in print in English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa, so all those attending could understand the service in their own first language.
The mass was one of the most beautiful worship services I've been a part of, and was presided over by none other than Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The service included a reading from the Koran, a Buddhist prayer, a Jewish prayer, an Episcopalian prayer, and a traditional African prayer. It was distinctly Catholic, and distinctly interfaith, and put together in a genuine, open, and loving manner which did not seem forced, and did not seem too desperate to achieve political correctness. It was simply an open worship service to commemorate a terrible event, to pray for victims of violence and torture, and to commune with people of all faiths in solidarity for peace and forgiveness and cooperation. Father Lapsley spoke of his strong belief in the importance of all faiths working together, of the value of all faiths, of his belief that we are all worshiping the same God, by different names. He also articulated his respect for his atheist and agnostic friends.
Archbishop Tutu is a small man, with a healthy sense of humor, and he spoke briefly about his history with Father Lapsley at the end of the mass. I was humbled to be in the presence of a man who has done so much good.
It was moving to attend such a genuine and loving mass. Christianity has its positives and negatives... but (despite evidence to the contrary) it certainly has the potential for real openness. If only that aspect of Christianity was more often carried out in the world.
What an incredible opportunity, to worship with Archbishop Tutu and Father Lapsley. What wonderful examples of the active love of humanity, Catholicism, and Christianity.