On June 15, Lapsley will have a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, in Rome, Italy, where he will discuss various topics, key among which is “healing of memories”.
Lapsley was expelled from the country in September 1976 and went to live in Lesotho, where he continued his studies and became a member of the ANC and a chaplain to the organisation in exile. He travelled the world, mobilising faith communities, in particular, to oppose apartheid and support the liberation Struggle. After a police raid in Maseru in 1982 in which 42 people were killed, he moved to Zimbabwe. It was here in 1990, three months after ANC leader Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, he was sent a letter bomb by the Civil Co-operation Bureau, a covert outfit of the apartheid security forces. It was hidden inside two religious magazines. He lost both hands and the sight in his left eye, and was seriously burnt.
Today, he is director for the Institute for the Healing of Memories, in Claremont, Cape Town and is in this capacity he will meet the pope.
“Through our work at the institute, we have a contact in the Vatican and I was invited by the pope himself. This meeting has been more than a year in the making. It is a great privilege.”
He will present the pope with a Spanish version of his memoirs, Healing of Memories, and his discussions with the pope will focus on “the importance and acknowledgement of the journeys of healing”.
“I am doing this because of the role the pope is playing in the world. He has great emphasis on mercy and compassion. In fact, it is his invitation for people to respond with kindness and generosity to human suffering that made me want to undertake this trip.”
Lapsley was full of praise for Pope Francis, saying he was “unprecedented” in his interaction with all faiths, especially Muslims. “Popes in the past have interacted with different faiths but it is the hallmark of Pope Francis to interact with different faiths. Muslim prayers have been held at the Vatican, encouraging in light of growing Islamaphobia around the world.”
Lapsley said he hoped to share his message and work in healing of memories with the pope, saying that people all over the world needed help to recover emotionally, spiritually and psychologically from trauma.
He used the TRC process as an example of how people could heal from the wounds of the past.
“The past always comes in and out of focus. When Winnie (Madikizela-Mandela) passed away, we as a nation were reminded of our woundedness but also how we failed to acknowledge Winnie’s woundedness. The same can be said for the inquest into the death of (Ahmed) Timol. While the TRC was a good thing, the recommendations made there still need to be looked into,” said Lapsley.
He is a believer that though conflicts end and wounds heal, the same does not always happen for the survivors of trauma unless there has been an acknowledgement of their pain.
The work of the Institute for the Healing of Memories is about remembering without being a prisoner of one’s memories. “Pope Francis has heard the pain of people. He has walked beside them,” said Lapsley, regarding the pope’s condemnation of sex scandals that have plagued the church for decades.
While this is not his first visit, he would like to see St Peter’s Cathedral and the Colosseum . Lapsley, who turns 70 on June 2,hopes to tour parts of the Vatican he has not seen.
The Institute for the Healing of Memories will hold a fundraising event at St George’s Cathedral on May 17, featuring the Gentleman’s Ensemble from Gugulethu.