The leader of the world’s Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, paid tribute to Nelson Mandela’s courage on Sunday at a special church service for the anti-apartheid icon in London.
“Great injustice is overcome only by great courage. Evil can never be placated, it must be defeated. That means struggle, and struggles demand courage,” Welby said in a sermon at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square.
“Nelson Mandela showed his courage by his determination in the face of evil and by his humanity in the experience of victory. What is more, such courage and humanity were learned and demonstrated in the midst of conflict and suffering.
“He was that rarest of leaders, those who learn from terrible events so as to exhaust all their lessons, rather than being shaped by them into bitterness and hatred,” Welby said.
In the sermon broadcast live on BBC radio at the same time as prayers were held across South Africa, Welby said the lives of Mandela and many in his country had been full of oppression and justice.
But while many would have kept their heads down, Mandela fought back with “courage that showed itself in leadership”, the archbishop said.
“He stood out, resisted and fought. He faced the insult of being labelled a terrorist for fighting for his own people, the absurdity of trial for treason against an utterly wicked regime,” Welby said.
The archbishop said the courage of Mandela, who died on Thursday at aged 95, was undefeated by 27 years in jail.
“His capacity to go on becoming more human was breathtaking. His guards grew to respect and even love him. One called him a father figure, whose absence was a bereavement,” Welby said.
“Robben Island was defeated by someone who could take everything it threw at him, and by melting courage into forgiveness create the gold of reconciliation.”
The service featured a live link to Christ the King church in Sophiatown in Johannesburg, and the South African national anthem was played.