Whole world is embracing you, WCC chief tells Mandela family

By agency reporter
December 11, 2013

Each evening since the death of Nelson Mandela, his family has gathered in a small white tent just outside the front door of the Mandela home for a prayer service and a time of songs and reflection on the life of the beloved head of their family and social justice icon.

Monday night, 9 December 2013, was no different, except that the service was broadened to an international perspective when the World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, offered condolences to the family on behalf of the WCC fellowship of 345 churches representing some 550 million Christians around the world.

"I came to assure you that the whole family of churches around the world...are praying for you these days," Tveit said as he addressed Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and the Mandela family including Winnie Mandela.

"These days you are surrounded by the sympathy of many, I would say the whole world," Tveit added.

While no photography was allowed during the worship, the service was broadcast to those who had gathered outside the walls of the Mandela home.

Since Mandela's death on 5 December, thousands of people have been gathering to pay their respects to Mandela. The walls in front of the home are swamped with flowers, pictures and mementos recalling the life and impact of Mandela.

Only a few moments before the service, former Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and United Nations secretary general Ban Ki Moon had come to pay their respects to the Mandela family, but they left just before the 6pm prayer service began.

More than 100 heads of state attended the memorial service on Tuesday, the largest gathering in history of world leaders for a state funeral.

"Today, I am honoured and very moved by being here with you," Dr Tveit said. He said that not only are people in churches around the world praying for the Mandela family but that Christians and people of all faiths and no faith "have been inspired by President Mandela."

"Inspired to believe that it is possible to work for justice through peace," he said. "And it is possible to see that forgiveness can rule in this world and change what is wrong, change the minds of people and change nations."

Dr Tveit shared how Mandela held a special place for the WCC during his life, as the WCC and its member churches directly supported his efforts to end apartheid. Mandala visited the WCC offices in Geneva, Switzerland, within a few months after his release from prison in 1990 and then spoke at the 1998 WCC 8th Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe.

"We are still empowered by his words," Tveit said. "These days we say that we are not only looking back, but we are also looking forward to the days before us as we feel challenged, and I would say obliged, to follow his example."

The service was officiated by the General Secretary of the Methodist Church of South Africa, the Rev Vuyani Nyobole. Nyobole has organised each of the prayer services. Mandela grew up in the Methodist church.

The Anglican Bishop of Pretoria and General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Johannes Thomas Seoka, gave the keynote message during the service and spoke at length of the contribution Nelson Mandela made to peace and justice in the world.

Also present was Bishop Ivan Abrahams, former WCC Central Committee member and now the General Secretary of the World Methodist Council.


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