- (Photo: Reuters)
Church leaders around the world have paid tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, with Pope Francis praying that people will follow the example of justice and common good set forth by South Africa's first-ever black president.
"In commending the soul of the deceased to the infinite mercy of Almighty God, I ask the Lord to console and strengthen all who mourn his loss," Francis wrote in a telegram on Friday, sending his condolences to Mandela's family and all the people in South Africa.
"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."
Late on Thursday, South African President Jacob Zuma announced to the nation and to the world that Mandela had passed away at home in Houghton near Johannesburg, after a long illness, at the age of 95.
After spending 27 years as a political prisoner in South Africa, Mandela emerged on Feb. 11, 1990, and eventually became the country's first black president, becoming an anti-apartheid icon and the global face for racial equality.
"This is the moment of our deepest sorrow. Our nation has lost its greatest son, yet what made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human," Zuma said on TV when announcing the news.
The world's political and faith leaders have been pouring in tributes for the former president, with the Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, offering a prayer for Mandela's soul. Mandela was a Christian, baptized at a Methodist church when he was young.
"Go home Madiba, you have selflessly done all that is good, noble and honorable for God's people," Makgoba offered.
"We will continue where you have left off, the Lord being our helper. We now turn to you, Lord, in this hour of darkness, sadness, pain and death, in tears and mourning. We wail, yet we believe that you will console us, that you will give us the strength to hold in our hearts and minds, and the courage to enact in our lives, the values Madiba fought and stood for."
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the leader of the Anglican Communion, commented: "South Africa has lost its greatest citizen and its father. Nelson Mandela, fighting to the end, is freed to be with His God in joy and reward for His great service and sacrifice. We pray for his family, for his friends and for his country. We are challenged to show the same degree of humanity, of courage and of generosity."
World Council of Churches General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit said Mandela lived his life "consistent with the best teaching of his Christian educators and the ecumenical movement."
"He will be recalled as the leader who acted to unify a nation once deliberately divided along the lines of race," Tveit said, adding that Mandela was a "liberator who by force of his remarkable personality raised the dignity of Africans after centuries of colonialism, oppression and discrimination."
Dr. Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC's Central Committee, further thanked God "for giving us Mandela for 95 years."
"Through his life and works he has become an icon of dignity and freedom for all human beings," Abuom added. "We will remember Mandela for his forgiveness he extended to his enemies and the perpetrators of apartheid, a quality very rare among many world leaders today."
The World Evangelical Alliance noted that Mandela was more than an important African leader, and described him as "an international statesman and a peacemaker, a man who demonstrated the spirit of reconciliation par excellence."
"Madiba is considered by many as the father of the nation. He modelled firm confrontation with evil and injustice, and magnanimity in his triumph over those who sought his destruction," offered the Rev. Moss Ntlha, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa.
"His passing calls to mind the prophetic tradition of Micah that says: 'He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.' (Micah 6:8)."
Mandela's state funeral will be held on Dec. 15, Zuma announced.