When Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, John Paul II had been Pope for more than 15 years. The two charismatic leaders met for the first time soon after Mandela's prison release in 1990. Five years later, John Paul II traveled to South Africa, and Mandela, already president, welcomed him at the airport, referring to the Pope as "my brother.”
The late African leader then traveled to the Vatican to meet with John Paul II in 1998. Both leaders called for solutions to solve the serious challenges that afflicted all of Africa.
Pope Francis also issued a telegram to express his condolences for the death of Mandela.
FULL TEXT OF THE TELEGRAM:
TO HIS EXCELLENCY MR JACOB ZUMA
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA
IT WAS WITH SADNESS THAT I LEARNED OF THE DEATH OF FORMER PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA, AND I SEND PRAYERFUL CONDOLENCES TO ALL THE MANDELA FAMILY, TO THE MEMBERS OF THE GOVERNMENT AND TO ALL THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH AFRICA. IN COMMENDING THE SOUL OF THE DECEASED TO THE INFINITE MERCY OF ALMIGHTY GOD, I ASK THE LORD TO CONSOLE AND STRENGTHEN ALL WHO MOURN HIS LOSS. PAYING TRIBUTE TO THE STEADFAST COMMITMENT SHOWN BY NELSON MANDELA IN PROMOTING THE HUMAN DIGNITY OF ALL THE NATION’S CITIZENS AND IN FORGING A NEW SOUTH AFRICA BUILT ON THE FIRM FOUNDATIONS OF NON-VIOLENCE, RECONCILIATION AND TRUTH, I PRAY THAT THE LATE PRESIDENT’S EXAMPLE WILL INSPIRE GENERATIONS OF SOUTH AFRICANS TO PUT JUSTICE AND THE COMMON GOOD AT THE FOREFRONT OF THEIR POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS. WITH THESE SENTIMENTS, I INVOKE UPON ALL THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH AFRICA DIVINE GIFTS OF PEACE AND PROSPERITY.