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Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela; a Sign of Contradiction...

During Pope John Paul's visit to South Africa...
Each one of us, no matter how genuine and sincere we claim to be, is a sign of contradiction.

We may yell at our kids to pick up their room, but keep our own room a mess, or complain about overspending to our spouses, then frivolously spend like there's no tomorrow (You probably guessed, I'm talking from experience!).  Or, we may want to do good for others but then make any and every excuse not to do it when it's inconvenient, which reminds me of the St. Paul verse, "For I do not do the things I want to do but do the things I hate."   

In any case,  Nelson Mandela was also a sign of contradiction.

To millions worldwide, the former President of South Africa, longtime political prisoner (27 years) and leader in the fight against apartheid and racial inequality in his homeland, who died on Thursday at the age of 95, was one of the most beloved larger-than-life iconic figures in recent history and an epitome of hope, love of fellow man and humility, in the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Theresa, as I heard a radio commentator say Friday morning.

Yet, to others, like the member of my parish council, who knows I work in TV news, and cornered me after a meeting to tell me, "Can you believe the media is glorifying Mandela as a saint-like human rights hero?  The guy was notorious for rubbing elbows and supporting some of the most notorious terrorist leaders in the world," maybe, not so much!

Yes, Mandela was a man known for his grace, gentleness, good humor and faith.  After being released from prison, he forgave his captives.  He became South Africa's first black president at the age of 75, met with world leaders, including Pope John Paul II in 1995, received a Noble Peace Prize and represented the struggle for equality and peace that most people admire. 

Wherever, he appeared publicly, people rose to their feet in applause and, many times, even chanted his name.  Hollywood made movies about him, which wouldn't you know it, the latest one, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, was just released!  I'm sure the producers were saddened by the news of his death but, at the same time, went chi-chin! (Another contradiction!)  

Good friends...
But, some, including thousands of exiled Cubans in Miami (which may not be a big deal to others but, as a Cuban, it is to me!), will never forget his public support of Fidel Castro, who among his many atrocities against his own people and the world, imprisoned a little known figure named Mario Chanes de Armas for 30 years (three years longer than Mandela was imprisoned), who was kept in deplorable conditions after turning on the regime for violating their democratic promises, or his embracing of Yasser Arafat, the then leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which hijacked planes, massacred the Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich and children on a school bus and committed several other bombings and savage killings of innocent civilians, and Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator known for harboring and assisting international terrorists.

Not to mention, his 2003 denouncement of President George W. Bush as a warmonger and allegation that the U.S. "committed unspeakable atrocities in the world."  (Which I'm sure endeared him to many more people around the globe!)

In other words, as someone near and dear to me poignantly pointed out when the news on his death was reported on TV, "He was a communist!" which may be debatable but sure captures the essence of how some people felt about him.

Sure, there will be a state funeral and world leaders will attend and praise him for all the good he did for racial equality, freedom and peace around the world.  History will inevitably remember him this way, and maybe, deservingly so, but, like all of us, he too was a man of dichotomy, which, despite all the accolades, some won't easily forget.

Mandela once said, "Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace."

May God rest his soul and bring peace to his family, friends and homeland...

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