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Church leaders led prayers at a remembrance service in Soweto, South Africa this morning for the country's first black President, Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Ponitifical Council for Justice and Peace, represented Pope Francis at the ceremony.
Archbishop-emeritus Desmond Tutu, a friend of Mandela's and fellow anti-apartheid campaigner, gave the final blessing in Afrikaans, after exhorting the enormous crowd in the World Cup stadium to be so quiet that he could "hear a pin drop".
Prayers were led by the South African Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, and included Christian, Islamic and Hindu elements.
“Nelson Mandela spoke to our hearts, his mighty power of forgiveness sustained us… [it] saved our country from the pit of prejudice and injustice,” he said.
Bishop Ivan Abrahams, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council and the first South African to hold the position, delivered the homily.
Nelson Mandela's funeral is due to be held in his remote village birthplace, Qunu, on Sunday.
Prayers and services of remembrance were held across the world this weekend.
South African Cardinal Wilfred Napier presided over a Requiem Mass at Emmanuel Cathedral in his archdiocese of Durban on Saturday night, which was followed by an ecumenical service and an all-night prayer vigil; and hundreds more gathered to remember Mandela at Masses in South Africa’s largest Catholic church, Regina Mundi church in Soweto, on Sunday.
At a service at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, the former seat of fellow anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop-emeritus of South Africa Desmond Tutu, the Anglican dean Michael Weeder told a packed congregation that Mandela’s life “was an exposition of the African spirit of generosity. And as he dies, he lives again and again. He is resurrected in every act of kindness.”
The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, who has proved unable, or some say unwilling, to deal with the country’s increasing violence, corruption and inequality, delivered a eulogy for Mandela at a Methodist service in the northern Johannesburg suburb of Bryanston, which was attended by Mandela’s former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
“He believed in forgiveness and he forgave even those who kept him in jail for 27 years. He stood for freedom. He fought against those who oppressed others. He wanted everyone to be free,” said Mr Zuma.
Meanwhile of all the Catholic leaders across the world to have responded to the news of Mandela’s death, perhaps the most remarkable came from the bishop in Shanghai, who is being held under house arrest by the Chinese authorities.
China Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma, who has been incarcerated in Shanghai diocese’s Sheshan seminary since his episcopal ordination on 7 July, 2012, paid carefully worded tributes to the former South African leader on his online blog, AsiaNews reported.
Bishop Ma quoted three sayings of Mandela’s, including a quotation from his book Long Walk to Freedom, saying: "Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me … Faith sometimes undergoes painful tests, but I will not give in to pessimism,” and “Both the oppressors and the oppressed need liberation. The ones who take away others’ freedom are prisoners of hatred. They are locked behind bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness."
He urged Catholics to pray for Mandela, remembering that he spent 27 years in prison because of his struggles for justice.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told the BBC’s Newsnight programme on Thursday that Mandela’s example “challenges us all” and had provided a non-violent basis on which South Africa’s political future could be constructed.
"The pattern that South Africa has established – and I know very well the present head of the Anglican Church in South Africa, and you see it in him – is of enormous inclusion; a willingness to accept a prejudice towards welcome and hospitality, rather than shutting out and enmity," he said.
The Archbishop said that every South African he has met in recent years saw Mandela as "the beacon by which one set one’s course if you wanted to do the right thing.
"One of the great lights in the world has gone out this evening," he said.
In a telegram on Friday Pope Francis urged President Zuma to keep Mandela’s commitment to non-violence and reconciliation at the heart of the country’s politics.
In a message to relay his condolences Pope Francis said: “Paying tribute to the steadfast commitment shown by Nelson Mandela in promoting the human dignity of all the nation’s citizens and in forging a new South Africa built on the firm foundations of non-violence, reconciliation and truth, 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.”
Read more: Nelson Mandela troublemaker who chose life
Above: Man holds up program as people celebrate national memorial for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg; Arachbishop Tutu addresses the crowds. Photos: CNS