Global Christian leaders extol life of Mandela remembering links to churches

(Photo: WCC / Chris Black)Former South African President Nelson Mandela joins a South African choir at the 8th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Harare, Zimbabwe that was held between December 3-14, 1998.

GENEVA - Pope Francis hopes Nelson Mandela will inspire generations of South Africans  while the secretary general of the World Council of Churches says the country's first black president will be remembered as one of the most deserving laureates in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Pope paid tribute to Mandela expressing his hope that the late president's example will inspire generations of South Africans to put justice and common good at the forefront of their political aspirations.

"I pray that the late resident's example will inspire generations of South Africans to put justice and the common good at the forefront of their political aspirations.

"With these sentiments, I invoke upon all the people of South Africa divine gifts of peace and prosperity," said Francis Friday in a telegram to South African President Jacob Zuma.

Mandela died at the age of 95 Thursday.

WCC leader Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit said an example of Mandela's strength of character and reconciling nature was that he willingly shared the Peace Prize with the last apartheid leader F.W. de Klerk despite decades he had spent in prison and lives sacrificed in the civil strife during the fight for freedom.

"The values he exemplified were those of love, life, justice, peace and dignity," said Tveit.

Mandela died on Thursday after a long illness, South African President Jacob Zuma announced on national television.

"He will be recalled as the leader who acted to unify a nation once deliberately divided along the lines of race," said Tveit.

He noted that Mandela was a "liberator who by force of his remarkable personality raised the dignity of Africans after centuries of colonialism, oppression and discrimination."


Tveit described Mandela's relationship to the WCC as a special one, recalling Mandela's visit to the WCC Geneva offices in 1990 soon after his release from prison.

This is when he expressed his gratitude for the churches' support to the anti-apartheid struggle.

South African President Jacob Zuma said Friday that Mandela will be laid to rest on Sunday December 15 after a period of official mourning.

That will end in a State funeral at his home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province.

A memorial service for Mandela will be held on December 10 at the 95,000-seat FNB stadium near Johannesburg where the 2011 World Cup soccer final was held. Mandela's body will lie in State in the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria, from December 11-13.

As South Africa's first black president, Mandela addressed the WCC's 8th Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998.

He praised churches' efforts against apartheid in South Africa, as well as missionaries for bringing high standards of education to Africa from which Mandela benefitted as a child.

Mandela had said, "You have to have been in an apartheid prison in South Africa to appreciate the further importance of the Church.

"They tried to isolate us completely from the outside. Our relatives could see us only once every six months. The link was religious organizations, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and members of the Jewish faith. They were the faithful who inspired us."

"The WCC's support exemplified in the most concrete way the contribution that religion made to our liberation.


"From the days when religious bodies took responsibility for the education of the oppressed because it was denied by our rulers, to support for our liberation struggle, whenever the noble ideals and values of religion have been joined with practical action to realize them, it has strengthened us and at the same time nurtured those ideals within the liberation movement," Mandela said.

"It is therefore a matter of pride to us that democratic South Africa has a constitution that embodies those values and ideals in whose name we enjoyed the support of the international community in our striving for freedom and justice.'

"Those ideals and values must be our guide in the unfinished journey we have travelled together ..."

The Lutheran World Federation also eulogized Mandela "as one of the most inspiring persons of our time."

"We join with his family, the people of South Africa, and people all across the world in prayer and mourning, but also in celebration of the character and accomplishments of this great man," LWF President Bishop Munib A. Younan and general secretary Rev. Martin Junge said in a joint statement Friday.

"He stood for principle, he fought for justice, he made for peace," the LWF leaders added in the message of condolence for the celebrated anti-apartheid activist, who served as South Africa's first black president from 1994 to 1999.

"Nelson Mandela inspired all people with his selfless generosity, humanity, sacrifice, leadership and wisdom," said Rev. Guy Liagre, general secretary of the Geneva-based Conference of European Churches representing 115 churches, in a statement.

"European churches thank God that that their efforts against the apartheid regime played some part in ending its vile racism. More importantly they are grateful for his inspiration and example in reconciliation and the healing of divisions that can be applied in present day Europe," said Liagre.

During South Africa's apartheid era, Mandela was convicted of attempts to use violence to overthrow the then government, and was imprisoned for 27 years until his release in 1990, following a global campaign.

In 1993, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former President Frederik W. de Klerk.

"He devoted his life to building a new South Africa - a country in which all are equal under the law, a country in which racial discrimination and apartheid have no place, a country in which, in the words of Martin Luther King, people are judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin," the LWF said.

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