The point Bishop Desmond Tutu keeps making is that the Nobel Peace Prize, which he will receive next month in Oslo, is not just a personal honor.
"It belongs to all of us. It's a tribute to all of us who continue in the struggle for justice and peace," he told the cheering audience at a special convocation Wednesday called by Howard University to honor him and award him an honorary degree.
"I will receive it on behalf of . . . the little people who have their noses rubbed in the dust daily and who long for nothing more than their right and their place in the land of their birth."
Later, in a more informal meeting with a gathering of cleric-alumni and present students at Howard's divinity school, he returned to the theme.
"There is nothing that happens between Christians that could be only personal or of individual significance," he said.
"I am able to witness in South Africa, and you where you are faithful to your witness. It is your prayers that uphold us . . . . We know we are surrounded by your love and your prayers and they are like a wall of fire around us."
Still, the bishop makes it clear that he is very pleased to have been singled out for the Nobel Prize. "The prize comes to us in South Africa after the South African government has spent two or three years vilifying us and discrediting us," he said. The government recently concluded a protracted investigation into the South African Council of Churches, which Tutu heads.
Long before the coveted prize was announced, Tutu had been invited to address the divinity school's annual convocation as one of contemporary Christendom's foremost experts on the convocation's theme, "Churches Under Siege."
When he became a Nobel laureate, the entire university planned the special convocation and gave him an honorary degree.
But after the ceremony and luncheon, where he was beseiged by autograph seekers, he went back to the divinity school's Northeast campus, in the old Holy Name College on Randolph Street NE, to a more informal meeting where he answered questions of fellow clergy members.
Earlier, at the special convocation, he had issued a "call to the black community, but also to other freedom loving persons" in this country. His message: "Get your act together so that you can be as effective and as powerful a lobby as, for example, the Jewish community; so that your administration will not be collaborating with an apartheid government against your black sisters and brothers; so that the Reagan administration would be constrained to support blacks in South Africa as they now support Israel . . .
"We shall be free and we will remember who helped us to gain our freedom. That is not a threat, just a statement of fact."
In the question period at the divinity school, Tutu was asked about the role of black churches in this country.
Tutu praised the "glorious history" of the black church during the slavery period and added that "another glorious moment in the history of the black church was the time of your civil rights struggle."
Turning to subject of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, a campaign based largely on black church strength, he said, "You may not always agree with Jesse, but here is someone God used again to remind you of the power that you had" in the black churches.
By linking his campaign to the black church, Tutu said Jackson "was reminding us of something: if our people run divided, the fault will be ours who are the leaders of the church."
Tutu also praised movements such as TransAfrica. "We need to honor our own people more and more," he said, and urged stronger ties between areas of need in Africa and black churches here.
Noting that a major project of the South African Council of Churches is providing support for families of political prisoners, he proposed that black churches here each "adopt one political prisoners' family."
On the perennial question of pressuring American firms doing business in South Africa to modify apartheid, Tutu said: "I cannot in Washington get up and say that I support disinvestment, because that is an indictable offense -- which tells you how the South African government views the importance of foreign investments."
But asking American firms to modify apartheid, he continued, is "making apartheid slightly more comfortable. We don't want to make apartheid more comfortable . . . . We want apartheid dismantled."
Tutu said the struggle of black South Africans for freedom is rooted in the Bible. "We are who we are not because of any political identification," he said. "Our struggle is thoroughly based on the Gospel . . . on a God who takes the side of nonentities."
Tutu said that he has "not suffered as much as other people" involved in the struggle against apartheid. The most troublesome action against him has been the lifting of his passport, he said. He travels currently with a "travel document," which, he said, lists his nationality as "undeterminable at present."
But he asserted that in churchly terms, suffering "is a mark of the church just as much as holiness and catholicity."
Jesus, he reminded his listeners, "is the Messiah not in spite of but precisely because of the fact that he died . . . and rose again."
As Christians, "We don't have to go out looking for suffering," he said, but added: "There is no Resurrection without Good Friday.