Vice President Biden hailed Nelson Mandela as the "most impressive man or woman I've ever met in my life" while speaking at a memorial service for the anti-apartheid icon Wednesday morning at the National Cathedral.

"Nelson Mandela taught us trust is possible. Reconciliation is possible. Justice is possible. Change can come," Biden told a crowd that included staff from the South African Embassy and the Obama administration.

Biden hailed Mandela for his "astonishing" ability to embrace his captors and described his surprise when, during a meeting in Biden's Senate office, Mandela insisted he harbored no anger toward them.

"His loyalty, as it turned out, was to all the people of South Africa — black, Indian, white," Biden said.

The vice president said that, as a young senator, he travelled to South Africa, where officials attempted to separate him from black members of Congress.

Biden said the incident demonstrated the "arrogance of this government, telling the delegation from the United States of America that we had to separate ourselves based on our color" and the "repugnant" consequences of apartheid.

"Neither of us — the delegation or me — was willing to walk through different doors," Biden said. "We moved together."

The National Cathedral, located blocks from Biden’s home in a leafy neighborhood northwest of downtown Washington, has regularly served as the site for large memorial services.

The funerals for former Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford took place at the century-old cathedral.

On Monday, Biden traveled to the South African Embassy in Washington to express his sympathy after Mandela’s death. In a condolence book, Biden wrote, “Through his unflagging, unflinching commitment to human dignity and his willingness to forgive, he inspired us and challenged us all to do better.”

President Obama hailed Mandela as the "last great liberator of the 20th century" during a memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday.