South African Cardinal: Why Mandela is so revered

2012-07-18 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) As South Africans mark "Nelson Mandela Day" on July 18th in honour of the nation's former president and Nobel Peace Laureate we spoke to the country's leading Catholic Churchman, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier who has met Mandela many times. He spoke enthusiastically about Mandela's greatest qualities as a man and as a leader in an interview with Vatican Radio's Susy Hodges

Listen to the extended interview with Cardinal Napier:

One of Mandela's greatest qualities, says Cardinal Napier, was that "he gave himself for the cause of freedom... and "was genuinally doing it for others ... he's a man very much concerned about others." Despite his many admirable qualities, Mandela comes across as "a very very humble man" says Cardinal Napier. He also noted that Mandela "always kept in touch with his people, from the highest to the lowest."

Cardinal Napier went on to recall how Mandela tried for several days to get in touch with him after his appointment as a cardinal and when they eventually spoke on the phone he told Cardinal Napier not to address him formally saying "No, I'm Madiba to you." He said that Mandela also expressed his surprise at the newly-appointed cardinal phoning "ordinary folks" like himself (Mandela) in view of his recent elevation within the Church.

When it came to Mandela's leadership qualities, Cardinal Napier said he had the courage "to go against the tide" when necessary and also was adept at using "symbolic gestures" such as when he organised to have tea with the wives of the former prime ministers and presidents of South Africa, the leaders who had been the architects of his incaceration. As a symbol of reconciliation, says Cardinal Napier, this was "a masterstroke" on Mandela's part.