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Amid enthusiastic applause, cheers, whistles and a standing ovation, South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela paid tribute December 5 to the nation's religious institutions.

Without them, he said, he would not be where he was today.

Nelson Mandela is the star speaker at the eight-day Parliament of the World's Religions (PWR), which ends in Cape Town on 8 December. Yesterday he addressed a plenary session of about 6500 spiritual leaders, their followers and delegates from 90 countries and a broad spectrum of religious traditions.

Mandela, in demand the world over for his charisma and for his work as a peacemaker and campaigner for justice, endeared himself to the PWR participants still further when he informed them he had originally been scheduled to be in the United States December 1 for an engagement that had been arranged long ago.

"But when I was told about this occasion, I changed my whole itinerary so that I could be here," he said. "This gathering at the close of our century serves to counter despairing cynicism and calls us to the recognition and reaffirmation of that which is great, generous and caring in the human spirit."

The 81-year-old former head of the liberation struggle against apartheid said his generation was the product of religious education. "We grew up at a time when the government of this country owed its duty only to whites, a minority of less than 15 percent. It took no interest whatsoever in our education." It was religious institutions?Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish?which bought land, built and equipped schools, employed teachers and paid them.

"Without the church religious institutions, I would never have been here today," Mandela said. "But to appreciate the importance of religion, you have ...

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In the Magazine

December 6, 1999

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