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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 Memories

[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.