Sir Paul Reeves ordained Fr Michael as deacon. Later, when he was Governor General, Sir Paul visited him in hospital in Australia.
Fr Michael Lapsley, at St John's College.
Fr Michael at St John's College, flanked by his travelling companion, Br Moeketsi SSM, and his Auckland host, Professor David Williams.
Fr Michael Lapsley signing copies of his newly released autobiography, Redeeming the Past.
Fr Michael speaking at the Auckland launch of his book Redeeming the Past. That launch was held in the Selwyn Library.
Fr Michael Lapsley pronounces the blessing at Holy Trinity Cathedral's midweek choral Evensong.
The guest lecturer at St John’s College yesterday was Fr Michael Lapsley, freedom fighter turned healer.
That’s what he calls a species of forgiveness pedalled by some Christian preachers.
He described it to the students this way:
“I steal your bicycle.
“Then six months later I come back to you and confess, saying: ‘Yes, I’m very sorry I stole your bike. Please forgive me.”
“Being a good person, you say: ‘Yes. I forgive you.’
“But I keep the bike.”
He went on: Some preachers speak of forgiveness as if it was something glib, cheap and easy. Whereas the real thing, he said, is costly, painful and difficult.
Something that must involve making restitution for what has been stolen.
Returning the bike, in other words.
Fr Michael is the Hastings-born priest who was sent by his order, the Society of the Sacred Mission, to South Africa in 1973.
He became active in the anti-apartheid movement, joined the African National Congress – and in 1990, while living in exile in Zimbabwe, he opened a letter bomb which almost killed him. His hands were blown off, and he was blinded in one eye.
Fr Michael then began a journey from victim to survivor to victor and founded an organisation called The Institute for Healing of Memories, on whose behalf he now travels the world.
He’s been in New Zealand to attend a Wellington conference to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ANC, and to launch his autobiography: Redeeming the Past – My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer. (Cost: $47.50, available from Pleroma Christian Supplies)
And Fr Michael preached the Evensong sermon at Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral on Wednesday, where he explained that he has not forgiven the person who wrote his name and address on that letter bomb.
Not because he harbours bitterness or hatred towards them.
But because forgiveness is not an abstract transaction.
“For me”, he said, “forgiveness is an I-Thou process, and since I don’t know who bombed me, there is as yet no-one to forgive.”
“Forgiveness is potentially on the table.
“If someone were to come forward and say: ‘I am the person who sent you the bomb. Please forgive me,’ I would be willing to turn the key that frees that person from guilt.
“But first I would need to know if he still makes letter bombs.”
Fr Michael explained that he lives now in Capetown, around the corner from largest children’s hospital in Africa.
“So if that person were to say: ‘Ah, I work at that hospital,’ I would know he had had a change of heart. My response would be: ‘Yes, of course, I forgive you.”
“How much better that my assailant should continue working in a hospital rather than being locked up in prison.
“This is the justice of restoration, not the justice of punishment.”
While Fr Lapsley was in New Zealand, 34 miners were killed by police at a platinum mine near Johannesburg.
And his Evensong congregation included a number of churchmen who had played prominent roles during the 1981 Springbok Tour protests.
“Many of you have travelled and prayed with us over many years,” he said.
“This is the most terrible event in South Africa since 1994,” he said.
“I ask you to pray as you have never done before.”
Later, at St John’s College, he spoke of his prayer that out of the tragedy of Marikana, South Africa would yet experience a “kairos moment”, when grace breaks through and makes a redemption possible.
Fr Michael began his return journey to South Africa today.