The Washington Times - June 24, 2013, 01:04PM

President Obama is praying for the health of ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela, the White House said Monday.

The 94-year-old Mr. Mandela is in critical condition in a hospital, just days before Mr. Obama is scheduled to visit South Africa as part of a week-long trip to the continent.

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“Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and with the people of South Africa,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “The president obviously has long seen Nelson Mandela as one of his personal heroes, and I think he’s not alone in that in this country or around the world.”

He said Mr. Obama “continues to look forward to the trip and to his visit to South Africa and to continuing to build on our already very strong partnership with the South African government and people.”

The White House has not said that Mr. Obama and Mr. Mandela were scheduled to meet on this trip. Mr. Obama first met Mr. Mandela in 2005, when the former South African leader was visiting Washington and Mr. Obama was a newly elected senator.