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Nelson Mandela at the Monitor: A memorable visitor on a quiet Sunday

Five months after his release from his 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela visited Boston, and on a Sunday morning he dropped in on the reporters and editors of The Christian Science Monitor.

By Editor / December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela, with Monitor editor Richard Cattani (r.), stands on the Christian Science Church plaza in Boston, Mass. on June 24, 1990, in this file photo.

Peter Main/The Christian Science Monitor/FILE

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It was a quiet Sunday morning in Boston's Back Bay -- June 24, 1990 -- and a small crew of editors and reporters was working on the next day's edition of The Christian Science Monitor. The big news of the day: Nelson Mandela's visit to Boston.

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Editor-at-Large, The Christian Science Monitor

John Yemma is editor-at-large of The Christian Science Monitor, having served as the Monitor's editor from 2008 to 2014. The Monitor publishes international news and analysis at CSMonitor.com, in the Monitor Weekly newsmagazine, and in an email-delivered Daily News Briefing. John can be reached at yemma@csmonitor.com.

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A Monitor editor spotted an unexpected visitor walking near the "reflecting pool."

It was Nelson Mandela.

Everyone in the newsroom piled out the doors to meet him. Mr. Mandela saw Massachusetts as the anti-apartheid struggle's "second home," since it had been a leader in the disinvestment movement that had put pressure on the South African government to change its ways. And it turned out he had a special fondness for the Monitor as well.

Mandela stood on the front steps of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, just across from the Monitor's headquarters, and spoke of the "warmth and love" he had received in Boston. He then surprised those gathered with these words:

"The Christian Science Monitor was well known to me during my 27 years in prison. It continues to give me hope and confidence for the world's future."

Richard Cattani, the Monitor's editor, recalled Mandela's eyes "darting with delight" as he looked at the flags around the plaza.

"We need a world without distinction among peoples," Mandela said. "We are all children of God."

Only five months earlier, the world had watched in rapt attention as Mandela made what is now known as "the long walk to freedom," emerging from South African prison after 27 years. Monitor reporter John Battersby was on the scene:

"Time stood still during the hour in which we waited for Mandela. But when the moment arrived and I saw the tall figure of Mandela striding toward the media throng, I lost all sense of time and ego and walked toward him with a broad smile. He noticed me, smiled back, and walked up to shake my hand."

That handshake was memorable to many. Mr. Cattani recalled in a column afterwards that the onetime boxer had a grip like that of Muhammed Ali -- "a contrast between power and gentleness, authority and humility." 

John Yemma is editor of The Monitor. He can be reached at editor@csmonitor.com.

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