“The strength of the new South Africa will be measured in the distance that the poor and the marginalized travel from the periphery to the center of our society,” Weeder said.
In Johannesburg, hundreds swayed and sang at the Regina Mundi Church that was near the epicenter of the Soweto township uprising against white rule in 1976 and served as a refuge from security forces who fired tear gas around the building and whose bullets have pockmarked the outside walls.
The Rev. Sebastian J. Rossouw compared Mandela to the biblical figures Isaiah and John the Baptist as men who led in dark times, calling him “that moonlight in the dark night.”
God “sent us this man to show us the depths of the human heart, he sent us this man to show us that despite what was going on at the time, light could shine,” Roussouw said. He warned of the flaws of modern life in South Africa, preaching against the “corruption and crime” that plague the country.
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 Johannesburg.
Inside a church behind Mandela’s property in the eastern village of Qunu, where he will be buried, about 50 people held a raucous, celebratory service. A robed man banged on a drum. Clapping men huddled as women danced on the concrete floor.
The Rev. Joshua Mzingelwa, the leader of Morians Episcopal Apostolic Church, delivered a loud, throaty sermon.
“There is still hope in the hardship that you are facing daily,” Mzingelwa told the congregation.
In an affluent, predominantly white suburb of the capital, Pretoria, parishioners prayed for Mandela at what was once a worship center for pro-apartheid government and business leaders.
A picture of Mandela was beamed onto the wall above the pulpit, highlighting the enormous changes in South Africa, which elected Mandela as its first black president in an all-race vote in 1994.
The Rev. Niekie Lamprecht, pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church of Pretoria East, said Mandela was the driving force behind changes of attitude in the congregation’s overwhelmingly white parishioners.
“He said, ‘Let’s forgive,’ and he forgave. That created a space for people to feel safe … at a time when the expectation was that there was going to be a war,” Lamprecht said.
Foreign dignitaries began arriving Sunday, and the government said more than 50 heads of state were expected. Those attending include U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
After the stadium memorial on Tuesday, Mandela’s body will lie in state at the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria, from Wednesday to Friday, followed by the burial in Qunu.
Torchia reported from Cape Town, Gambrell from Johannesburg, Straziuso from Qunu, and Clendenning from Pretoria. Ray Faure in Johannesburg also contributed to this report.