JOHANNESBURG – Desmond Tutu turned 80 Friday and held public birthday celebrations at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, a church that played an important role in the South African struggle against apartheid.

However, the Dalai Lama was unable to obtain a visa to attend the party.

At least 450 guests attended the church ceremony, among them Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Graca Machel, the wife of former President Nelson Mandela.

After a special prayer service at the church — which allowed in non-whites even during the era of minority-rule — Tutu was scheduled to hold a private lunch in the Western Cape region.

Tutu showed up wearing religious garb and his trademark smile, while church choirs from around the country sang in his honor.

Speakers at the jovial and emotional event thanked the Anglican priest for his work for human rights and peace, in addresses interspersed with jokes.

Tutu’s easily recognizable laughter often filled the church. His warm spirit and sense of humor were also on show at an event Thursday evening marking the launch of the new book “Tutu: The Authorised Portrait.”

The former archbishop of Cape Town said that he was “sad,” however, that the Dalai Lama was unable to obtain a visa to visit South Africa for the events.

There was an empty chair in the church, to mark the absence of the archbishop emeritus’ close friend.

The visa incident caused an uproar, with Tutu lambasting the government for its decision, amid a widespread belief that Pretoria was kowtowing to its major trading partner China, which believes the Tibetan spiritual leader is a dangerous separatist.

Instead of delivering in person a lecture today at the University of the Western Cape, the Dalai Lama will instead be linked via video to Tutu’s celebrations and give his address virtually.

The Dalai Lama is expected to speak on the subject of “Peace and Compassion as Catalysts for Change.”

Accolades for Tutu have been pouring from around the world.

The U.S. Embassy in Pretoria wished the “Arch,” as he is affectionately known in South Africa, a happy birthday, describing him as “a man who is recognized for his fearlessness in speaking truth to power.”

Bono, the lead singer of rock band U2, was in South Africa for the events, joking that he was “not radical enough not to get a visa,” in a swipe at the government.

“At 80. you are on one punk rock level higher than I am. You are also more dangerous than any rock star because, Arch … you’re radical like the Christ in whose footsteps you tread. Whatever grace is, Tutu’s got it,” the singer was quoted as saying by the SAPA news agency.

Tutu won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his part in the struggle against apartheid, while fiercely supporting integration.

He used the word “rainbow” to describe the South African nation, reveling in its diversities.