Pope Francis and Father Michael Lapsley shared a hug during a private meeting at the Vatican earlier in June. Picture: Supplied
Cape Town  - “I was most impressed by the richness in his humanity.”

This is how Cape Town’s father Michael Lapsley - or Father Michael, as he’s known - summed up his private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican earlier this month.

The clergyman was expelled from South Africa in September 1976 and went to live in Lesotho where he became a member of the ANC and a chaplain to the organisation in exile.

He was later sent a letter bomb by the Civil Co-operation Bureau, a covert outfit of the apartheid security forces, which was hidden inside two religious magazines. Father Michael lost both his hands and sight in his left eye in the blast, and was seriously burnt.

“We got on extremely well. Same sense of humour, same direct language, same listening capacity, same priorities. And even a big hug at the end,” he said of his meeting with the revered leader of the Catholic church.

Father Michael said he started his meeting with the pope by sharing some of his life journey, including the “pivotal” experience of the letter bomb, which he said Pope Francis was visibly moved by.

He then explained how the bombing in time led to his calling to create the healing of memories work which eventually led to the formation of the Institute for Healing of Memories early in SA’s democracy, as a complement to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Father Michael spoke about a meeting the pope had the previous day with representatives of the oil industry, and that he chastised them for their exploitation of fossil resources and its damaging impact on our common home.

The conversation included light moments, with Pope Francis and Father Michael enjoying their shared sense of humour.

“The Holy Father mentioned that a sense of humour is probably the closest thing to the grace of God.

“He referred to St Thomas More’s Prayer for Good Humour, which he prays for daily,” said Father Michael.

Father Michael celebrated his 70th birthday this month.

He said meeting the pope was the best birthday present “ever”.

Weekend Argus