Father Michael Lapsley. His Healing Memory

The 39th Niwano Peace Prize will be awarded to Father Michael Lapsley, SSM of South Africa in recognition of his relentless struggle against apartheid and social discriminations, his support for the liberation movement in South Africa and various peacebuilding activities in other parts of the world.

Father Michael was born on June 2nd, 1949 in New Zealand. He began his education at the Anglican Society of the Sacred Mission in New Zealand. In 1971, he joined the religious order of the Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM) in Australia. He was ordained to priesthood in 1973.

He went to South Africa at the height of apartheid in that country and began his work as Chaplain in black and white campuses, which exposed him to student activism and the injustices experience by black students under apartheid. He raised his voice for black students who were being shot, detained and tortured.

Because of his involvement in anti-apartheid activities, he was expelled from South Africa, but he took this opportunity to travel the world to raise awareness against racism and mobilize support for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

In 1990, he sustained severe injuries, including losing both hands, the sight in his right eye, and extensive burns from a letter bomb explosion. This incident, rather than leaving him bitter, angry or dejected, reshaped his life’s work and lead to his transition from being a freedom fighter/ social activist to a healer. He realized the need to combine healing and reconciliation into his non-violent peacebuilding efforts.

Father Michael Lapsley was the Chaplain of the Trauma Center for Victims of Violence and Torture in 1993. He founded and became the Director of the Institute for Healing of Memories (IHOM) in Cape Town, South Africa in 1998. Since then, he continues the Institute’s work in South Africa and internationally organizing community forums to combat xenophobia, violence against refugees, workshops for prisoners, human rights education for youth, participating in dialogue sessions and other peacebuilding activities.

His “Healing of Memory” workshop provides platform to those who want to share their experiences of injustice and discrimination and want to be heard compassionately. Father Lapsley, in his approach, is very inclusive as he embraces persons of all ages, gender, ethnicity, faith, and marginalized groups.

As a global activist, Father Lapsley after recognizing that racism was not confined to South Africa alone, he did not restrict himself within his country, but has moved globally such as launching the association called Friends of Cuba or creating the International Network for Peace, along with the families of those killed in the September 11 attacks in USA, to promote effective and nonviolent solutions to terrorism.

Father Lapsley draws his spirituality from his reflections on injustices, pain and sufferings caused by social inequalities that he witnessed around him and this led him to seek justice for all based on his understanding of the Bible. Therefore, while being rooted in Christianity, his appeal has been universal and interfaith. Father Lapsley’s non-violent, multi-faith peacebuilding efforts and activities of healing based on restorative justice approach, dialogue, and reconciliation are continuing to contribute to the healing of South Africans as well as many others all over the world.

In this way, Father Michael Lapsley has contributed immensely to the cause of peace and inter-religious cooperation. 

Father Michael will be awarded of the 39th Niwano Peace in recognition of his relentless struggle against apartheid and social discrimination, his support for the liberation movement in South Africa and various peacebuilding activities in other parts of the world. 

The presentation ceremony will take place in Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. The Niwano Peace Foundation established the Niwano Peace Prize to honour and encourage individuals and organizations that have contributed significantly to inter-religious cooperation, thereby furthering the cause of world peace, and to make their achievements known as widely as possible. The Foundation hopes in this way both to enhance inter-religious understanding and cooperation and to encourage the emergence of still more persons devoted to working for world peace.

The Prize is named in honour of the founder and first president of the lay Buddhist organization Rissho Kosei-kai, Nikkyo Niwano. For Niwano, peace was not merely an absence of conflict among nations, but a dynamic harmony in the inner lives of people as well as in our communities, nations and the world. Seeing peace as the goal of Buddhism, Niwano devoted much of the latter half of his life to promoting world peace, especially through inter-religious discussion and cooperation.