Friday, August 18, 2006

The little people get hurt …

In the crowded summer streets of York yesterday, Japanese tourists, German students and American pensioners were having their photographs taken in the shadow of the city’s gothic medieval minster. Inside the great cathedral, a small hunched figure, dressed in purple prayed. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, the Church of England’s first black primate, has foregone his summer holiday this year – he was meant to be going to Salzburg to enjoy some Mozart with his wife – in favour of seven days of prayer and fasting for peace in the Middle East and beyond.

To ensure that his sacrifice does not go unnoticed, Sentamu is carrying out his week of prayer and fasting right in the heart of his cathedral, and in dramatic fashion: he has pitched a small mountaineering tent – green, with an Episcopal purple lining – in front of the altar in one of the minster’s side chapels.

Curious tourists fill the chapel and gather outside as the archbishop prays aloud each hour. Then, after each period of prayer, the building is filled with the sound of Elgar’s Cello Concerto with its sad lament about the futility of war. “There is an African proverb,” the archbishop tells his little congregation. “When two elephants fight, the little people get hurt.”


Stephen Bates writes in the Guardian about Archbishop John Sentamu’s unusual camping trip, and reminds us that music is a powerful commentator on world events.

When John Sentamu was born, the sixth of thirteen children, near Kampala in Uganda in 1949 he was so small the local bishop was called in to baptise him immediately. He survived his birth, a sickly childhood and a famine to become, a mere twenty-five years later, a judge in the Uganda High Court.

In 1974 he managed to get a visa to leave Uganda and come to Britain where he studied theology with a view to returning to the Ugandan justice system at the end of his studies. However, when his friend the Ugandan Archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered he vowed ‘You kill my friend, I take his place’ and he was ordained in 1979. He served in parishes in Cambridge and London, and was vicar of Holy Trinity Church in South London for thirteen years during which time he raised £1.6 million to restore his church and its organ as well as increasing his congregation ten fold.

While Bishop of Birmingham he became heavily involved with issues affecting the community, and was an Advisor to the Stephen Lawrence Judicial Inquiry and the Chairman of the Damilola Taylor Review board. Damilola Taylor (picture right) was a Nigerian schoolboy who died in the UK after being stabbed in 2000. Bishop Sentamu supported and advised workers affected by the closure of the Rover car plant in Birmingham and campaigned against gun crime throughout the Midlands after the killings of cousins Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare. In June 2005 Bishop Sentamu was appointed Archbishop of York .

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