CAPE TOWN – South Africans were celebrating a national day of prayer Sunday to reflect on the life of Nelson Mandela, adding a formal religious component to days of homage honoring the anti-apartheid icon.
From the Regina Mundi Church in Johannesburg to St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, the outpouring of love knew no racial boundaries for the man whose journey from prisoner to president inspired the world.
At Regina Mundi, this nation's largest Roman Catholic Church standing near the epicenter of the Soweto township uprising in 1976, the Rev. Sebastian Rossouw described Mandela as "moonlight," telling worshipers Mandela offered a guiding light for South Africa.
Mandela's ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, joined one of his grandsons, Mandla Mandela, and South African President Jacob Zuma in a prayer service in a Methodist church in Johannesburg.
"We felt it important that we should have a day where all of us as South Africans can come together and pray for our first democratic president and reflect on his legacy," Zuma said. "But it is also to pray for our nation … to pray that we not forget some of the values he fought for."
In Cape Town, worshipers at St. George's Cathedral prayed that "his long walk to freedom be enjoyed and realized in our time by all of us."
Cape Town is where Nelson Mandela made his first public appearance after his release from prison in 1990. From the balcony of City Hall, he greeted the crowd gathered on the large open area known as the Grand Parade.
Capetonians have been gathering near the site of that historic moment to pay their respects since the announcement of his death late Thursday. A steady stream of people have placed flowers and mementos, signed condolences and shared their memories with one another. They used words like "volunteer," "love," "defiance" and "action" when talking about the man many called father of the nation.
Like many people originally from South Africa's Eastern Cape province, where Mandela was born and where he will be buried, Lutho Masiko, an environmental health student, plans to head to the former president's burial, as well.
"If you ask kids, 'Who's your role model?,' the first person is always Madiba," he said, using Mandela's clan name. "When I ask my younger sister and brother, you'd expect them to say, 'You, big brother,' but no, it's Madiba," he said with a laugh.
The most important lesson Masiko said he learned from Mandela is forgiveness. "It's something I struggle with. As I learned more of what he handled and how, it impacted me."
Marius Fransman, South Africa's Deputy Minister of International Relations, took off his baseball cap before placing a bouquet of flowers on the ground.
"We are saddened that our leader, our hero, the revolutionary, the servant of all servants, [is] just no more," Fransman said. "Six months ago we had a difficult period where he was so ill, but he was still fighting, he was battling it out."
"Tata (Father) Madiba was an internationalist," Fransman went on to say. "He understood that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. South Africa will only be free if we free the people of Palestine. Unity, justice, inequality; he was against oppression."
Michael Stevenson, of Chicago, first visited South Africa in 1991 and returned again on Thursday.
"The minute we landed in Johannesburg, the captain came on to say, 'For those who don't know, what happened last night was the passing of Nelson Mandela,' " said Stevenson. "There was an eerie calm (on) the airplane. A few gasps of disbelief. And then, of course, we all got out our hand-held devices and started checking our e-mails, seeing the news."
Megan Langenhoven, 28, felt "immense sadness" when she heard the news.
"It touches you as if you are losing your own family member," Langenhoven said. "(Mandela's) daughter said she was 18 months old when he went to prison. I can't imagine leaving my son behind," she said, gesturing to her young son in a stroller.
Ellen Graziano, of Rockville Center, N.Y., had just arrived on her first trip to South Africa when she heard of Mandela's death. "He was so monumental to equality. It's very special that I'm able to share this historical moment," she said.