Catholics around the world mourn Nelson Mandela

Prayers and services of remembrance were held across the world this weekend for the country’s first black President, Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday.

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.

Catholic leaders across the world responded to the news of Mandela’s death.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

At the news of Mandela’s death Chris Bain, director of the bishops’ aid agency Cafod, urged Catholics to “build the world he wanted to see”.

He said: “Today, we have lost a brother, a leader, and a legend. But 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.”

Church leaders in the United States offered prayers for Mandela, remembering both his courageous anti-apartheid leadership and his promotion of one of the world’s most liberal abortion laws.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, called Mandela “a hero to the world.”

“His bravery in defending human rights against the great evil of apartheid made him a symbol of courage and dignity, as well as an inspiration to people everywhere.”

Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services, said the U.S.-based international relief agency mourns Mandela’s passing, calling him “a champion in the struggle for justice and equality for all.”

“His life inspires all of us to re-dedicate ourselves to helping the oppressed find their voice and their way to lives of meaning and dignity. His personal example of forgiveness and non-violence will challenge us to work for peace and reconciliation even in the midst of deep conflict.”


The Tablet
Catholic News Agency
Catholic Herald
Image: Chip Somodevilla/

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