Archbishop Lawrence Henry - Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
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Title: Archbishop Lawrence Henry
After Mr Nelson Mandela’s release from prison he effectively wanted to pay tribute to all who were involved in “the Struggle”. He came to the community in Athlone, and particularly to Holy Mass at St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church there to remember Coline Williams and Robert Waterwich – two young Catholics who were actively involved and who had been killed when a bomb exploded at the Athlone Magistrate’s Court.
The photograph shows me giving Holy Communion to Madiba. I was taken totally by surprise when he presented himself before me to receive the Sacrament because by normal Catholic practice Holy Communion should only be given to Catholics and Madiba is, of course not a Catholic.
When the photograph and the report of the event appeared in the local press I was roundly criticized and condemned by some Catholics for going against the normal Catholic practice. They were horrified to the extent that there was even a call for me to resign or to be removed as the Archbishop of Cape Town.
The Apostolic Delegate (the Pope’s representative in the country) also approached me for an explanation, as he needed to inform the Vatican about what had happened. In my response to the Vatican I stated that were I presented on a future occasion with a similar situation I would necessarily again have to act in the same way.
I was greatly consoled and encouraged by Cardinal Owen McCann who, as a former Archbishop of Cape Town, assured me that I had done the proper thing and that it had been done in a dignified and respectful manner. He supported me and said that he would have done likewise.
As for Madiba, and indeed for the people in the congregation on that day, it was a day of special grace and blessing.
Quote: "I was taken totally by surprise when he presented himself before me to receive the Sacrament."
Collection: Moments with a Legend