South African President Nelson Mandela assists Pope John Paul II at the Johannesburg International Airport in 1995.

CNS PHOTO | PATRICK DE NOIRMONT, REUTERS

South African President Nelson Mandela assists Pope John Paul II at the Johannesburg International Airport in 1995.

December 16, 2013

Pope Francis joined Church and government leaders from around the world in crediting Nelson Mandela for a steadfast commitment to promoting human rights and upholding the dignity of all people.

Pope Francis said he offered a prayer to assure that Mandela's efforts to forge a new nation based on nonviolence, reconciliation and truth after the apartheid era "will inspire generations of South Africans to put justice and the common good at the forefront of their political aspirations."

The pontiff also asked God to "console and strengthen all who mourn (Mandela's) loss."

Mandela, the former president of South Africa who had been battling complications from a lung infection, died at his home in Johannesburg Dec. 5. He was 95.

Others commended Mandela for leading a peaceful transition to democratic rule after he was released from prison in 1990 after 27 years and his election in 1994 as South Africa's first black president.

Mandela had a touch of humanity rarely seen in political leaders, said Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa in an interview with Catholic News Service.

Napier said he came to treasure Mandela through regular meetings church leaders had with his African National Congress in the transition from apartheid to democracy.