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Pope Francis today urged South Africa to take inspiration from the life of Nelson Mandela to forge a better future for the country.
In a message on the death of the country’s first black president the Pope paid tribute to Mandela’s commitment to human dignity and his forging of a new South Africa based on “non-violence, reconciliation and truth”.
The Pope said: “I pray that the late president’s example will inspire generations of South Africans to put justice and the common good at the forefront of their political aspirations.”
Mandela, who died yesterday at the age of 95, led the anti-apartheid struggle and was elected president in 1994.
He battled against a political regime that segregated people on racial lines and spent 27 years in prison, a number of which were spent on the remote Robben Island, off Cape Town.
He was released from prison in 1990 and helped united a nation mired in racial violence and civil unrest.
But despite the steps forward the country has remained dogged by high levels of poverty and corruption.
Mandela, whose mother was a Christian and who was educated at Methodist school, recognised the Churches’ involvement in the struggle against apartheid and met Pope John Paul II at least three times.
The former president will be given a state funeral. Details of the event have yet to be released. It is understood there will be a ceremony of remembrance in the Soweto football stadium which Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town who fought apartheid alongside Mandela, will help lead.
Mandela will be buried according to the traditions of his Xhosa tribe in the village of Quna, in the Eastern cape.
After the state funeral, in London Westminster Abbey will hold a service of thanksgiving for his life.
Mandela’s chaplain while he was in prison, Revd Harry Wiggett, told The Tablet from Cape Town today: “Madiba had a love that will not let us go … His life was iconic inasmuch as it showed what it means to be truly human. We grieve his passing with a deep sense of thanksgiving.”
In a letter from prison in 1984, written to the first black Catholic South African archbishop, Mandela said he had been inspired by the Catholic Church’s campaigning on social justice issues.
One of those who spoke out against apartheid was the late Archbishop of Durban, Denis Hurley.
The President of the Southern African Bishops’ Conference, the Archbishop of Cape Town, Stephen Brislin, said in a statement today: “We, the Catholic Church in Southern Africa, express our gratitude to uTata Mandela for the sacrifice he made for all peoples of South Africa and for the leadership and inspiration he gave in leading us on the path of reconciliation. He never compromised on his principles and vision for a democratic and just South Africa where all have equal opportunities, even at great cost to his own freedom. Despite great suffering throughout his life he did not answer racism with racism.”
Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, who also fought against apartheid, told The Tablet: “Today we South Africans are experiencing mixed emotions – real sadness at the passing of our Tata, and yet the overwhelming desire to celebrate with pride what he meant to each of us personally and as a nation. Many of us had the joy of meeting him, of being touched by the warmth of this very special human being. Some amazing photographs tell the story of his life, above all the exquisite joy and love he had for every child, and the way he reached out to embrace even those who had opposed him bitterly. He, his life, will forever hold before us the invitation – if someone like him, after suffering so much, could make words like healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, a new beginning become possible, then surely I – indeed all of us – can reflect on how to live more authentically the human values which can make this world different?"
The Archbishop of Dublin recalled meeting Mandela just after he had been released from prison as part of a church delegation. He recalled how Mandela was working in the very simple surroundings of two or three rented offices. "It was the simplicity which belongs to the great,” the archbishop said. Archbishop Martin acted as an interpreter at the meeting and Mandela came up to him to thank him for his work. “It is the measure of someone great when they have time for everybody, they don’t put themselves at the centre,” the archbishop said.
Chris Bain, the director of the Church in England and Wales’ aid agency Cafod, decribed Mandela as “a brother, a leader, and a legend”. He added: “More than ever now, we must dedicate ourselves in Nelson Mandela's memory to the fight for freedom, peace and justice. The greatest honour we can pay him – the legacy that he warrants – is that we build the world he wanted to see: a world free from any form of division, whether between black or white, rich or poor, man or woman.”
He added: "Cafod’s supporters stood in the vanguard of the battle against apartheid, and the demand for Nelson Mandela's freedom. His fight was ours. We helped fund the New Nation newspaper and worked through local churches to deliver health care in the townships; churches whose priests and bishops were so often literally in the frontline against the forces of oppression.”
Reacting to Mandela’s death, Archbishop Tutu said: “he was a unifier the moment he walked out of prison. We are relieved that his suffering is over, but our relief is drowned by our grief."
The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, praised Mandela for his lack of bitternes and "determination to wait for his time to come." The archbishop went on: "These qualities gave him the inner stability and resilience which characterised his life-time’s work. They are a great example to us in an age when immediacy of action and speed of result have become measures of success. Lasting and profound change is not achieved in that way. This is a great legacy he has left for us all."
Last night the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, the first African to hold this post, issued a prayer to mark Mandela’s death.
It reads: “Gracious Father,
You gave up your Son
out of love for your world:
Look with mercy on Madiba Mandela;
And on all your children in South Africa.
As they reflect on Christ's death and resurrection,
may they know eternal peace
through the shedding of our Saviour's blood,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Above: The French Foreign Ministry in Paris unfurls its tribute to Mandela. Photo: CNS/Reuters