Biden speaks at Mandela celebration in DC - New York News

Biden speaks at Mandela celebration in DC

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Vice President Joe Biden speaking at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela at Washington National Cathedral Vice President Joe Biden speaking at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela at Washington National Cathedral
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WASHINGTON -

Vice President Joe Biden was among many speakers at a memorial service at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday celebrating the life of the late South African President Nelson Mandela.

The service, which included numerous musical interludes, lasted about three-and-a-half hours. Entry was limited to those with tickets.

Biden, one of the first speakers, recalled his first visit to South Africa. He was part of a Congressional delegation visiting during the time of strict racial separation imposed by the minority white government of South Africa. Security officers, Biden said, tried to separate the arriving American politicians by race, so their arrivals could be processed at separate gates. Biden said the group refused, but the memory of the effort was burned into his consciousness.

At the cathedral, the vice president told those in the pews, "President Mandela taught us that trust is possible. Reconciliation is possible. Justice is possible. Change can come."

There was much music at the celebration, including a song from Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, surviving members of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.

Yarrow, Stookey and Mary Travers were among the thousands arrested at the South African Embassy in Washington during years of protests over that nation's system of apartheid.

Actress Alfre Woodard told the crowd: "This son of Africa rose up out of the veldt with a deep bond to justice that led him to study law, and to use law as a battering ram against the seeming impenetrable walls of apartheid."

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, challenged the gathered crowd to continue (what he considers to be) the unfinished work of Nelson Mandela.

"There is the capacity on this planet that the hungry can be fed," thundered Young, "that the naked can be clothed, that the prophecy of Isaiah can be fulfilled in our lifetime. If we keep on keepin' on..."

Those in the cathedral broke into applause at that point.

Among those in the audience: a D.C. father who kept his three-year-old daughter out of preschool for the day to attend the first hour of the service for Nelson Mandela. John Chambers told reporters outside, "I know it's school time, but I think this is one of those occasions where you want to really pass the torch on to the next generation."

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