About 18 months ago I wrote about Aung San Suu Kyi's triumphant and inspiring visit to this country. This was just after the Feast of the Sacred Heart, when the Gospel had focused our attention on Jesus' crucified vulnerability, and the ultimate triumph of Love over evil. Reflecting on what I had written about this, I described Suu Kyi as a seemingly powerless woman who, in her very powerlessness, has conquered military might; a woman who appeared a spent force when the regime was triumphant but whose very stillness and silence have moved the world. In their efforts to control and silence her, the regime unwittingly unleashed a spirit they could never control.
Today, the world mourns the death of a man about whom we could say pretty much the same. In their efforts to weaken, silence and control Nelson Mandela the apartheid regime unwittingly unleashed and strengthened a spirit they would never be able to control; a man whose stature and fame became far greater than any of his oppressors'.
But as with Suu Kyi, what we honour and remember Mandela for is not simply his indomitable spirit and long imprisonment, but his humanity, dignity and grace since his release. His refusal to seek any sort of revenge, and his commitment to reconciliation and peace-making are undoubtedly his greatest gifts to his country and to the rest of the world. As a BBC correspondent said, Mandela liberated not only black South Africans; he also liberated his oppressors from their hatred and rancour. Whatever else he was about, whatever else he may or may not have done, he lived forgiveness in the most extraordinary way; a way which can only challenge and teach those of us who have far less than 27 years' incarceration and ill treatment to forgive.
May he rest in peace