"His health, like our own, is fragile, but his spirit will last," Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "By keeping his humility and his faith, Mandela became a better man and has made us better too."
Lauded as the "George Washington" and "Abraham Lincoln" of South Africa, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., joined his colleagues to celebrate the third annual Mandela Day. Senators and House members illustrated the freedom fighter's life reading several quotes Mandela scribed.
"I have walked that long road to freedom," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said, reiterating Mandela's words. "I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."
Waters named Mandela "the most significant historic figure in the world of the past 100 years." A member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Waters fought against the South African apartheid that ended in 1994 when Mandela became president.
Throughout his life, Mandela spoke before Congress several times, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., recalled. She, like others at the ceremony, emphasized the longevity of Mandela's "legacy" and "values."
"May we always answer the call for justice, reconciliation and peace," Pelosi said. "May we always answer the call of Mandela."
Former President Bill Clinton commemorated the anti-apartheid activist at a United Nations Mandela Day celebration Thursday.visited with Mandela's family and toured Robben Island, where Mandela was a political prisoner for 27 years, when the Obamas traveled to South Africa last month.