Johannesburg – South Africans flocked to houses of worship for a national day of prayer and reflection to honor former President Nelson Mandela, starting planned events that will culminate in what is expected to be one of the biggest funerals in modern times.
At the famous Regina Mundi Church that was near the epicenter of the Soweto 1976 against white rule, Father Sebastian J. Rossouw described Mandela as “moonlight,” saying he offered a guiding light for South Africa. Hundreds of people attended mass in the small church that still bears the scars of the conflict.
“Madiba did not doubt the light,” Rossouw said. “He paved the way for a better future, but he cannot do it alone.”
During the service, worshippers offered special prayers for the anti-apartheid leader and lit a candle in his honor in front of the altar. Off to the side of the sanctuary was a black and white photo of Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95.
A national memorial service will be held at a Johannesburg stadium on Tuesday.
The body for the man who, as the country’s first black president forged a new multiracial South Africa, will lie in state at the Union Buildings, the seat of government, in the nation’s capital, Pretoria, from Wednesday to Friday, followed by his funeral and burial in the village where he spent his childhood in a remote rural part of the country next Sunday.
Scores of foreign leaders and other luminaries are expected to travel to South Africa to honor Mandela.
Among those who have already indicated that they will be coming to South Africa are U.S. President Barack Obama and his two predecessors, George W Bush and Bill Clinton.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also travel to Johannesburg for the memorial service, the United Nations said late Saturday.