Book of condolences opportunity to pay tribute to Mandela, express grief

John Brannen
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NEW GLASGOW – Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Francis Paris stands with a book of condolences in honour of Nelson Mandela, who passed away at age 95 on Dec. 5. Those interested in signing the book, which will be sent to Mandela’s hometown, can visit Second Baptist Church on Washington Street around noon this week. JOHN BRANNEN – THE NEWS

It’s this verse, Matthew 5:9 from the scriptures, that Francis Paris keeps coming back to.

“It’s the perfect verse to describe Nelson Mandela,” he said. “He’s a legend, an icon, a superhero even.”

Wanting to give others an opportunity to pay tribute to the late former South African president, Paris has assembled a book of condolences that is open for all to sign.

Anti-apartheid leader and freedom fighter Mandela, 95, passed away on Dec. 5 in the presence of his family.

“We can’t say that we’re shocked or surprised as he’s been sick for quite some time,” said Paris. “At the same time it’s hard to believe that he’s actually gone.”

Paris noted that the service at Second Baptist Church on Washington Street was fully of emotion, as it was the first Sunday since Mandela’s passing.

“It was definitely a sombre mood in the church.”

People have been stopping by since Sunday to sign. The idea for a book of condolences came together shortly before the Sunday service and a table for the book was put together for all the church members to sign.

“All who were there, about 60 to 70 people were able to sign,” said Paris. “It’s the least we can do to mark the passing of a remarkable person.”

A moving biography of Mandela was read in the church on Sunday.

At the memorial service, which is being held today in South Africa, presidents of six nations will pay tribute to the Mandela in a four-hour service. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with former prime ministers Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Jean Chretien will lead the Canadian delegation.

The book of condolences has already started to make the rounds in the community. Paris has been taking the book around town, including a stop to the bank, Sobeys and NSLC. All have been eager to sign.

“I took the book to NSLC for the staff to sign initially,” said Paris. “But when people heard what it was, they wanted to sign as well.”

Even students from New Glasgow Junior High are stopping by the church to sign on their breaks. Paris hopes to bring the book to town council meetings, NSCC Pictou Campus and schools in the county.

Despite South Africa’s and Mandela’s distance from Canada, Paris said the man was always a topic of discussion in his family, which includes New Glasgow town councillor Henderson Paris and Dr. Rev. Peter Paris, who met Mandela after his 27 years in a South African prison.

“It all comes together because of what he stood for,” Paris said.

He also noted Canada’s gutsy stance toward sanctions on the South African regime. In the 1980s, Canada’s Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was one of the only Western leaders to reject the apartheid regime with sanctions.

Mandela’s appreciation for Canada was displayed in his three visits and on his last in 2001, he was given an honorary Canadian citizenship.

Paris said he’ll wait about a month to send it in once the initial outpouring of grief and remembrance has died down.

Those looking to sign can visit Second Baptist Church on Washington Street around noon this week.

On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn

Organizations: Second Baptist Church, Sobeys

Geographic location: Paris, Washington Street, Canada South Africa New Glasgow

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