Priest gives talk on his remarkable life story at Durham Cathedral

Despite being horrifically injured and spending weeks in hospital, Fr Michael Lapsley launched a project for healing, reconciliation and forgiveness in the years that followed

Fr Michael Lapsley
Fr Michael Lapsley

A priest who lost both hands and an eye in a race-hate letter bomb attack has told his remarkable life story.

Despite being horrifically injured and spending weeks in hospital, Fr Michael Lapsley launched a project for healing, reconciliation and forgiveness in the years that followed.

His story began in 1990 when the anti-apartheid activist from South Africa opened the letter bomb while he was living in Zimbabwe.

He spent weeks undergoing surgery and treatment in a hospital in Australia.

Speaking to The Journal, Fr Lapsley said: “The letter bomb was the turning point in my life – anything that is life-threatening is life-changing.

“I think God saved me hatred and wanting revenge. If I had been consumed with hate, they would have failed to kill my body but they would have killed my soul.”

But after he recovered, he developed the Healing of Memories project, which has since helped countless victims of apartheid to recover from their past ordeals.

“The main feelings I had were grief for what I’d lost,” he said. “If you lose a loved one, part of you grieves forever, it’s similar losing limbs. You’re not consumed by grief, but part of you will always grieve.

“My struggle against apartheid had prepared me for death but not for permanent, major disabilities.

“While I had lost my hands and eye that I would always grieve for, I’d gained qualifications. When people saw my loss, it made it easier for them to talk about their own disabilities, some of which were not visible to the naked eye.”

In 1993 Fr Lapsley became chaplain for the Trauma Centre for Victims of Violence and Torture, in Cape Town, before founding the Institute of Healing of Memories, also in Cape Town, in 1998.

The organisation, which helps people all around the world, now works with groups including those affected by political violence, those affected and infected by HIV and AIDS, refugees and asylum seekers, prisoners and war veterans.

Fr Lapsley’s work has been honoured in many ways and he has now written a book about his life as both freedom fighter and healer.

And copies of ‘Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer’ were on sale at Durham Cathedral yesterday when Fr Lapsley preached and gave a talk on his life.

Canon Stephen Cherry, who is arranged and hosted the event, said: “I have met Fr Michael a few times now and am always inspired not only by his story but also by his passion and his actual presence.

“He lives with the wounds of violence and hatred every minute of every day and yet gives tirelessly of himself for the healing of others and for the good of all.

“This was a great opportunity to meet a person of real courage, vision and hope.”

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