Lancashire’s new Bishop, Rt Rev. Julian Henderson and the Bishop of the Free State, South Africa, have paid tribute today to the life and service of Nelson Mandela who died yesterday.
The Diocese of Blackburn (The Church of England in Lancashire) and the Anglican Diocese of the Free State are linked Dioceses with strong bonds going back many years.
The Free State Bishop, Rt Rev. Dintoe Letloenyane, was present in October at the inauguration service for Bishop Julian at Blackburn Cathedral.
Speaking today Bishop Julian, the Bishop of Blackburn, said: “In 2010, on a visit to South Africa, I had the amazing privilege to visit Robbin Island and stand at the door of the cell where Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned.
“His resilience and courage in the face of unjust and cruel opposition for those 27 years, followed by his forgiveness (‘let bygones be bygones’) has made the world, and particularly the people of South Africa, stand amazed that the human spirit is capable of such strength and generosity.
“And now that his earthly life has drawn to a close, we pause to give thanks to God for a life that has had such an impact and made so great a difference.
“We express our sympathy to his family and friends and as preparations are made for a state funeral, let’s pray that many will be inspired to follow his example of humility and joy.”
Speaking from Free State today, Bishop Dintoe spoke movingly about what Madiba meant to South Africans.
He said: “The country is in shock right now and we must give thanks to God for the gift of Madiba. He was a great man but a very humble man as well.
“He was a man of justice and most of the things he stood for are what Jesus stood for and what Jesus still stands for.
“When he heard the news this morning my 11 year-old boy asked me if I could have been a Bishop today if Mandela hadn’t gone to prison. I responded by saying God had a plan and used him to open doors, including the door that led me to become Bishop of the Free State.
“Mandela loved children and there is a fundraising campaign ongoing here to build the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital. That campaign will continue in his memory.
Bishop Dintoe added: “We have lost a great man who motivated the Church here in South Africa to look at itself in a new light.
“As a Church, as we teach our children about the importance of reconciliation, unity, justice and democracy we should ensure we also teach them about great lives lived; like Madiba, who embodied a belief in all of these things. We should never let his spirit die.”
Meanwhile, Canon John Hall from Fleetwood in Lancashire is Chairman of the Diocese Link Committee as well as being vicar of St Peter’s Church in Fleetwood. He first visited the Diocese of Free State in 1997 as a new dawn was emerging for South Africa.
Canon Hall said: “When I arrived the impact of Nelson Mandela was already rippling across the nation.
“Mandela showed an immense amount of courage and, in doing so, represented a lot of ‘small people’ – both black and white – who suffered under their old government.
“There is an overwhelming sense of loss today, combined with an enormous sense of gratitude for the way he encouraged the emergence of the new South Africa.”
Meanwhile, Blackburn Cathedral, the cathedral for Lancashire, is marking the passing of Mandela with a series of prayers at services throughout the day. The flag over the cathedral is at half-mast and there is a book of condolence available for anyone to sign from today until after evensong on Sunday.