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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Archbishop Tutu Leaves Church Post

CAPE TOWN -- Kings and presidents sang and prayed at a spectacular farewell service for retiring Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Sunday at the Cape Town cathedral from which he helped to lead South Africa to democracy.

Tutu, the feisty black cleric who kept apartheid in the world spotlight during years of harsh emergency rule, retires as head of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa at the end of June.

"[I'm] going to miss you. I love you very much," Tutu, 64, said at the end of a brief message of thanks.

He then tearfully hugged his wife, Leah, and laughingly offered his throne to his successor, Bishop Njonkulu Winston Ndungane.

African song and costume blended with Anglican incense and organ music, reflecting Tutu's homeland, which he dubbed during decades of fighting white-minority rule "the rainbow nation of God."

Guests in the cathedral of St. George, which was decorated with giant arrangements of white flowers, included Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, King Letsie of Lesotho, President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, President Ketumile Masire of Botswana and South Africa's Nelson Mandela.

Wearing a glittering gold mitre embroidered with a white dove of peace, Tutu called the congregation to their feet in a standing ovation for Mandela and again for F.W. de Klerk, the country's last white president, against whom he led a watershed march nearly seven years ago.

De Klerk averted a clash between protesters and police when he gave last-minute permission for the demonstration which was joined by tens of thousands of people.

Five months later, in February 1990, he repudiated apartheid and released Mandela from jail to start talks on a transition to democracy.

Tutu said in a television interview the demonstration was a highlight of his career.

Asked if he had any regrets, Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel peace prize and countless awards, including 52 honorary doctorates, said: "The struggle tended to make one abrasive and more than a touch self-righteous. I hope that people will forgive me any hurts I may have caused them."

Archbishop Carey, world leader of the Anglican Church, paid tribute to Tutu in a sermon and named him the first recipient of a new "Archbishop of Canterbury's Award for Outstanding Service to the Anglican Community."

"He is a fearless critic of all that is unjust. During the dark days when Nelson Mandela was in prison, Desmond's was one of the few voices heard in my country and others abroad," Carey said, adding that the award would be made only rarely.

Mandela praised Tutu's courage and morality and named him the first post-apartheid recipient of the nation's highest civilian award, the Order of Meritorious Service, Gold Class.

"He is renowned for his selfless commitment to the poor, the oppressed and downtrodden. He is forthright in condemning injustice. His most characteristic quality is his readiness to take unpopular positions without fear," he said.

Mandela said Tutu would continue to promote reconciliation as head of a commission probing abuses during the apartheid era.

"Archbishop Tutu, with his celebration of our rainbow nation and his powerfully healing guidance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an inspiration to us all in this most crucial task of reconciling our nation," he said.

Tutu cancelled plans to spend a year studying and teaching at Emory university in the United States, to take on the chairmanship of the commission earlier this year.

He has already started hearing evidence of the horrors suffered by blacks under apartheid and by victims of the guerrilla war waged by Mandela's African National Congress.

His commission will grant amnesty to human rights offenders who confess freely and nominal compensation to victims.