Throughout the years of apartheid the Jesuits of South Africa (a Region of the British Province) worked closely with the Southern Africa Bishops' Conference, campaigning for the release of Nelson Mandela and by caring for those who worked against injustice and discrimination.
Nelson Mandela's home had been in the Jesuit parish of St Martin de Porres in Orlando West, Soweto, where over the years the Jesuit priests provided counselling and support for young South Africans who were in the thick of the struggle and had to deal with situations of mistrust, false judgements and considerable violence. Other Jesuits were at Elandskop in KwaZulu-Natal during the low level civil war between Inkatha and the ANC during Mandela's imprisonment: there they ministered to and buried many parishioners, which often led to threats and intimidation. From Nyanga township, Fr Gerard Lorriman SJ was at the forefront of funerals and protests on the Cape Flats and regularly visited the political prisoners on Robben Island.
The British Jesuit Provincial, Fr Dermot Preston SJ, who was a deacon in Soweto in 1990 and met Mr Mandela shortly after his release from jail, believes Nelson Mandela was one of the most powerful advocates of justice of the past hundred years. 'What always impressed me about Mr Mandela was his spirit of graciousness and generosity,' he says. 'Despite decades of suffering unfairness, inequality and imprisonment, he retained his dignity and fortitude and strove to rebuild a society of fairness, equality and freedom. May God richly bless him.'
May he rest in peace.