Journeying in Hope and Resilience
Father Michael Lapsley epitomises the very best in human nature. His entire life has been a journey: of pain and suffering; of healing and forgiveness. The journey has certainly not been an easy one. Leaving his native New Zealand in 1973, as a young Anglican priest, he arrived in South Africa, which had mainstreamed apartheid. “I was not treated as a human being, but as a ‘white’ man”, he painfully says. He was clear about his mission: he identified himself totally with the anti-apartheid struggle.
Those on the other camp did not take this lightly. A letter bomb in 1990 almost killed him. Though he survived, the blast took both of his hands, one of his eyes and impaired his hearing. “But my spirit was not broken”, he says. He was able to go through the suffering, transcend it in some ways and embark on the journey of healing. His vocation now is to promote the healing of others- which he does with much compassion and total commitment.
Fr Cedric Prakash interacts with Father Michael Lapsley
His presence in Beirut today could not have come at a more significant time for the Jesuit Refugee Service (MENA Region). Just a week ago, a special campaign was launched by JRS to highlight the hope and resilience of the Syrian displaced and refugees. At a very meaningful interaction this morning, Father Michael shared with the JRS team (from Syria, Lebanon and the Regional Office) the need and importance of the healing of memories and the challenges of forgiveness.
Some of those present had come from Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. The past week has seen a fresh spate of violence in all these cities. “How does one begin the process of healing, when there is so much of violence and suffering all around us?” Another JRS staffer put it more bluntly, “how are you able to forgive, when they have done so much to you?”
Fr Michael nonchalantly says, “we have to begin somewhere and at some time; to heal the wounds, even if the scars may remain permanently. We have to get rid of the poison within us”. “I term it”, he continues with a smile, “as positive vomiting!” He is convinced that listening to others, sharing one’s stories – has to take place a collective; where confidentiality is respected. “Only then, we will be able to give strength to each other: to enable hope and resilience.”
All were inspired and touched by this interaction with Father Lapsley. Some of those present felt, that they themselves had just embarked on a special journey. Fr Sami Hallak sj, the Project Director of JRS in Aleppo, Syria, has translated Fr Laspsley’s memoirs into Arabic. For Fr. Sami, because of the situation in Aleppo (bombs falling everywhere) “I wanted to finish this translation as soon as possible. The Arabic version will hopefully help many of us in a very positive way”.
‘Redeeming the Past’, is the title of Fr Lapsley’s memoirs; it has a subtitle ‘My journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer.’ It was first published in English in 2012. It has already been translated into some other languages but the Arabic version will surely be a source of learning and healing- because of the sheer grit and determination, the hope and resilience of one man, who has had the courage to show the world that ‘another way is possible’.
In the words of the legendary 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”. Words of inspiration indeed, for many Syrian people who are refugees and displaced, but who are convinced, that their journey of hope and resilience will lead to a better tomorrow.
About Author: Fr Cedric Prakash sj, Advocacy & Communications, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) MENA Region, Rue de L’Universitie Saint-Joseph Achrafieh, Beirut-Lebanon.