Inter Faith

Niwano Peace Prize a “bolt from the blue” says Renowned South African Anglican Priest and Anti- Apartheid Activist

By Sheila Pires

Recipient of the 2022 Japanese Niwano Peace Prize award has told Radio Veritas, that the news came as a “bolt from the blue”, that it was something “remotely” unexpected.

In an interview with Radio Veritas SA, Fr Michael Lapsley of the Society of the Sacred Mission said he was “completely overwhelmed and taken by surprise”, when the Niwano Peace Foundation informed him some three months ago, that they were proposing to give him the award.

“It came as a bolt from the blue, was not something that I was remotely expecting” he said, adding that the entity asked him to keep it as a secret until the announcement, “then they swore me to secrecy, once I accepted, until the announcement a couple of days ago.”

The entity has chosen the Anglican Missionary Priest, to receive the 2022 Niwano Peace Prize in recognition of his “relentless struggle against apartheid and other forms of social discrimination, as well as various peace-building activities in other parts of the world”.

“I’m always conscious that there are so many other people who are equally or more deserving” emphasized Fr Lapsley, who acknowledged that his achievements throughout the years have “always been a collective process” that “awards and acknowledgement never belong to an individual.”

“I’ve never done this work as an individual, I’ve always been part of a collective”, said Fr Lapsley in the February 22 interview, “I was part of the liberation struggle with other companions, I started the Institute for healing of memories with other companions”, he said.

Fr Lapsley was born in New Zealand in 1949 and was ordained to the Priesthood in 1973 in Australia. He embarked to South Africa at the height of apartheid and began his work as Chaplain to students at both black and white universities in Durban. In 1976, he began to speak out on behalf of schoolchildren who were being shot, detained, and tortured.

In a February 21 statement, the Niwano Peace Foundation lauded Fr Lapsley for exercising the “virtue of humility, for his commitment to healing and reconciliation”, despite an attempt on his life in 1990, when he sustained severe injuries, including losing both hands, the sight in his right eye, and extensive burns from a letter bomb explosion.

According to the Japanese entity “an award presentation ceremony will take place in Tokyo on June 14. In addition to an award certificate, Father Lapsley will receive a medal and a cash prize of 20 million yen (about 173 million Rand).”

The founder and director of the Institute for healing of memories, told Radio Veritas SA that the award is an “acknowledgement of the significance of the work of healing the wounds of history, for all of humanity”.

He added “I feel a new sense of energy and inspiration to keep doing this work with all the new companions”, that “the journey of healing is an intergenerational journey.”

Fr Lapsley underscored interfaith saying “we should be clear as Christians, that the future of humanity is not a Christian future. It’s an interfaith future,” adding, “if we want the human family to live in peace, we need to learn about and from people of all faiths.”

During the February 22 interview with Radio Veritas SA, the Niwano Peace Prize recipient reflected on the working relationship between the Institute for healing of memories and the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference.

“I must say it is a very beautiful relationship we’ve had as an institute, and I personally have had an opportunity through the Justice and Peace Commission and the Catholic Bishops Conference, to interact with Catholics across Southern Africa in a number of occasions”, said Fr Lapsley.

He added “we were honoured and humbled, when the Justice and Peace Commission invited us to partner with them to do offer healing of memories workshops across the Dioceses of South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana.”