Nelson Mandela still critical; bishop prays for leader’s ‘peaceful, perfect, end’

Story highlights

NEW: Cape Town's archbishop leads Mandela's family in prayer

Crowds of supporters and news crews stand outside the hospital

Nelson Mandela's family visits his bedside

Officials say Mandela's condition worsened over the weekend

Pretoria, South Africa CNN —  

Cape Town’s archbishop led Nelson Mandela’s family in prayer on Tuesday, calling for “a quiet night and a peaceful, perfect, end” for the former South African president.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba prayed with Mandela’s family at the Pretoria hospital where the anti-apartheid icon remains in critical condition, the South African Press Association reported.

“Fill them with your holy courage and the gift of trusting faith, and take away their fears so that they may dare to face their grief,” he said, according to a copy of the prayer posted on the bishop’s website.

“Guide the medical staff so that they may know how to use their skills wisely and well, in caring for Madiba and keeping him comfortable,” Makgoba said, using Mandela’s traditional clan name. “And uphold all of us with your steadfast love so that we may be filled with gratitude for all the good that he has done for us and for our nation, and may honor his legacy through our lives.”

As night fell, well-wishers outside the Pretoria hospital where Mandela lay chanted his name, hung signs of support on bulletin boards and left flowers.

“We wish him well. We are calling on the world to unite and pray for Madiba,” said 24-year-old Innocentia Moselane. “He is our icon, and we love him.”

During his 27 years behind bars for fighting apartheid, Mandela became a rallying symbol for those fighting South Africa’s white-minority rule at home and abroad. His release in 1990 was the beginning of the end of apartheid, the system of legalized racial segregation the South African government enforced for more than 45 years.

“He is our hero. He is my mentor, my father. He is everything to me,” 36-year-old Kuda Nyahumzvi told CNN outside the hospital. “But when it is his time, we wish his soul could just rest. He spent so long in jail and struggling.”

While crowds of supporters appeared to have gone home by early Wednesday morning, the South African Press Association reported, scores of journalists remained outside the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria.

Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, spends every night at the hospital, where the former president has been since June 8 for a recurring lung infection. Previously, authorities had described his condition as serious but stable.

But over the weekend, his health took a turn for the worse, with the South African president’s office saying he was in critical condition.

“The doctors are doing everything possible to ensure his well-being and comfort,” President Jacob Zuma told the nation Monday.

When the country held its first multiracial elections in 1994, Mandela became the South Africa’s first black president. He stepped down in 1999 after serving a single term.

Though he continued to be a voice on the world stage for developing nations, human rights and the fight against AIDS after leaving office, Mandela, 94, has been sidelined by advancing age and bouts of illness in recent years.

He last appeared in public in 2010.

Journalist Hamilton Wende and CNN’s Matt Smith and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.