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Legendary anti-apartheid hero to speak at Saint John’s

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September 10, 2012

Rev. Michael Lapsley

The Rev. Michael Lapsley, a legendary hero of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, will present the lecture "Pain Knows No Boundaries: An Interfaith Journey of Healing and Hope" at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, in the Peter Engel Science Center's Pellegrene Auditorium at Saint John's University.

The lecture is sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning in collaboration with the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University departments of nursing and peace studies.  It is free and open to the public.

Addressing the importance of an interfaith vision for the work of building a peaceful world, Lapsley will highlight the urgency of acknowledging past wounds to break the cycle that turns victims into victimizers. He will also consider how lessons from South Africa's long journey to freedom might apply to analogous struggles in the United States.

Lapsley was born in New Zealand and ordained as an Anglican priest in Australia. After moving to South Africa in 1973, he soon became a prominent figure in the struggle against apartheid. In 1976, he was expelled from the country and moved to Lesotho, where he became a chaplain to the African National Congress in exile. 

During his years in exile, Lapsley traveled the world mobilizing faith communities to oppose South Africa's apartheid system and to support the struggle for freedom there. After a police raid killed 42 people in Lesotho in 1982, he moved to Zimbabwe, where in 1990 he was gravely wounded by a letter bomb meant to assassinate him. 

In the explosion Lapsley lost both of his hands and one eye and he was seriously burned.  Following his recovery, he worked for the Trauma Center for Victims of Violence and Torture in Cape Town and assisted Archbishop Desmond Tutu with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

In 1998, Lapsley launched the Institute for Healing of Memories and currently serves as its director. A well-known advocate for reconciliation, forgiveness and restorative justice, he has conducted workshops in many countries, enabling people from different ethnic groups, races and religions to reach a better understanding of themselves and each other. 

Lapsley is the subject of the biographical work Priest and Partisan: A South African Journey by Michael Worsnip with a foreword by Nelson Mandela. "Michael's life represents a compelling metaphor, a foreigner who came to our country and was transformed. His life is part of the tapestry of the many long journeys and struggles of our people," Mandela said.

Lapsley's book Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer, with a foreword by Tutu, was published this year by Orbis Books.

"He has truly become a citizen of the world," Tutu said, "and I have watched his work with a growing sense of awe and admiration. Although he was broken physically, he has become the most whole person I know, truly a wounded healer."