South African Anglican priest to discuss the healing of memories with Pope Francis
Posted on: June 14, 2019 2:16 PM
South African Anglican priest and social justice activist, Michael Lapsley, will have a private meeting with Pope Francis tomorrow (Saturday).Photo Credit: Healing of MemoriesRelated Categories: Ecumenical, peace & justice, pope francis, Roman Catholic, Southern Africa
[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] South African Anglican priest and social justice activist Michael Lapsley will have a private meeting with Pope Francis tomorrow (Saturday 15 June), when he hopes to receive support for his international work in healing of memories. Father Michael Lapsley, who lost both his hands and one of his eyes after receiving a letter bomb while living in exile from South Africa, has spent his life pursuing peace and justice issues.
He described the forthcoming visit as “a dream come true”, saying: “it is an enormous privilege to have essentially a ‘one on one’ with His Holiness the Pope.”
Michael believes the meeting will be particularly important to take forward the Healing of Memories ministry that he leads. He said: “I think healing of memories is something whose time has come in the human family. The openness of Pope Francis to meet with someone to talk about healing of memories, especially as he is a giant of compassion and morality in the world and keeps empathising the importance of mercy and compassion, is particularly significant.
“He is someone who is responsive to pain in the human family and I think it is singularly appropriate to have this conversation with him.”
Father Michael will be giving the Pope a copy of his memoirs, Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer, in both Spanish and English, that tells his story and the story of the work of Healing of Memories across the world.
“I will be sharing some of the work we do across the world,” he said. “I want to thank Pope Francis for the way he has called for humane responses – especially to refugees, at a time when there are more refugees than at any time in world history – calling our governments for a more humane general response.”
Michael said he hoped to raise the issues of childhood trauma and gender-based violence, which he said are two particularly dominant narratives within their work.
He said: “Pope Francis has challenged the human family and also been able to inspire and encourage. I want to appreciate that he’s brought into the Catholic catechism an opposition to the death penalty, that is encouraging.”
Michael was a student in Durban, South Africa in 1973. During the height of apartheid repression, he became chaplain to students at both black and white universities in Durban and began to speak out on behalf of schoolchildren who were being shot, detained and tortured. In 1976 he was exiled by the South African Government for his anti-apartheid activities. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) while living in Lesotho and became one of their chaplains. Whilst living in Zimbabwe he discovered he was on the South African Government hit list. Three months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 he received a letter bomb in the post, hidden inside the pages of two religious magazines and was badly injured.
He said: “What enabled me to make a redemptive response was the prayer love and support of people across the world. My journey has been a journey from being a survivor to being a victor. In a way I would say I was accompanied by people across the world on my journey of healing and in the work I’m doing now I’m returning the compliment of creating safe and sacred places where people can deal with what has happened to them.”
Michael founded the Institute for the Healing of Memories, a social healing NGO in South Africa and the United States. The ministry includes workshops where people can deal with how the past has affected them individually, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. It welcomes people from across the world and is also active in a number of countries including Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Burundi and Rwanda.
It has been a long time since Michael Lapsley, an eager young boy from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, became attached to our congregation at the Anglican Church of Saint Paul’s, Symonds Steet in Auckland. Michael’s spiritual formation at Saint Paul’s led him, eventually, to become a young postulant of the Anglican Society of the Sacred Mission in Australia, under whose auspices he later found himself at the heart of the Apartheid struggle as a priest of the Anglican Church in South Africa.
Fr. Michael’s championship of detainees in South African led to his deportation from that country. While acting as an ANC Chaplain in Zimbabwe, he was the recipient of a letter-bomb shortly after the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, whose friend and confidant Michael later became. It was this friendship that brought him – despite his severe injuries – into the important area of the ministry of reconciliation which was opened up by former prisoner Nelson Mandela when he became South Africa’s Leader.
New Zealand is proud of this illustious exile, whose Ministry of Reconciliation has been recognised and extended to other countries of the world – and now, brought to the attention of Pope Francis, Head of the Roman Catholic Church. May God bless this meeting of minds and mission.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand