South Africa's Nelson Mandela, who died Dec. 5, leaves behind a legacy of peace and reconciliation influenced by his own faith, and which has in turn influenced others of faith.
While Mandela was Christian, there was uncertainty as to the exact denomination he professed. He was baptized in the Methodist Church and attended a Methodist school as he grew up, but much of his family — his first wife, his sister and other close relatives — were Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to Michael Trimmer in an article for Christian Today.
Denomination aside, Mandela believed that Christianity was responsible for many achievements and advances in Africa.
"The Church was as concerned with this world as the next: I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church," Mandela said in his autobiography “The Long Walk to Freedom,” quoted by Trimmer in his article.
The religious community, along with many other world leaders, held Nelson in high regard. According to an article by the United Methodist Church, he was awarded the 2000 Peace Award by the World Methodist Council and referred to as a saint by the president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
Desmond Tutu, the archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1984, also held Mandela in an almost saintly regard.
“Was he a saint? Not if a saint is entirely flawless. I believe he was saintly because he inspired others powerfully and revealed in his character, transparently, many of God’s attributes of goodness: compassion, concern for others, desire for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation,” Tutu said in an article for The New York Times. “Thank God for this remarkable gift to South Africa and the world. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”
Along with Tutu, Pope Francis sent condolences and a prayed 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.”
While Mandela was a Christian, he recognized the power of all religions to influence people to do good and worked tirelessly to create a South Africa — and, perhaps indirectly, the world — where all men were equal despite differences in race or religion.
"Religion is one of the most important forces in the world. Whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew, or a Hindu, religion is a great force, and it can help one have command of one's own morality, one's own behavior, and one's own attitude," Mandela said as quoted by The Huffington Post.