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Speech delivered by Father Michael Lapsley SSM Director of The Institute for Healing of Memories from Cape Town South Africa at the opening of the Big Hope Young Leaders Congress at Liverpool Hope University in the United Kingdom

19 June 2018

13th of June 2018

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Thank you Mark Poutney

Dear Friends

Good afternoon


Salam alaikum



Bon Dia


Konichi wa


Kia Ora


I am deeply honoured to have been chosen to speak to you today and I especially thank Liverpool Hope and Vice-Chancellor Prof Gerald Pillay for the invitation. And for daring to create this amazing happening, this BIG HOPE  Young Leaders Congress.

As I look at your faces, I ask myself: what is the story that lies behind your smiles.  How much joy is in your heart and how much pain is there

What world do you imagine for yourself? What is the world of your dreams?

Because of my faith, I also like to ask the question

What is God's dream for the human family AND for Mother earth?

During this week we will spend together we will all have the opportunity to experience our common humanity in its diversity and its commonality.

We like to say in our Institute for healing of memories that All people have a story to tell AND every story needs a listener.

I have no doubt there will be many wonderful, challenging and inspiring presentations that you will not forget.

However even more importantly will be the times you sit and listen to one another's stories with open minds and open hearts .....especially  The Other who is different from you because of their colour, gender, disability, sexuality, class, nationality, ethnicity and whether they come from a country that profits from war or suffers from war..   If those heart conversations do not in some way change you, you wasted your time and money coming here.

Allow me to share one or two snippets of my story

A long time ago I arrived in South Africa as a young priest when the evil system of apartheid was doing its worst damage.   The day I arrived in South Africa, I stopped being a human being and became a white man.    I joined the liberation struggle to recover my own humanity in solidarity with black people struggling for their own fundamental human rights.

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

Apartheid was carried out in the name of Christianity.

Considering what is done in the name of religion, is it any wonder that John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote these words.  More conflicts than ever before have a religious dimension.

I imagine that some of you are totally secular while some may be quite religious.

For some, it is our faith which gives meaning to our lives.

Religious or not we are all trying to make sense of why we are here.

As a wise man said to me in Sri Lanka many years ago, Look not at what is done in the name of the founder of a religion.  Look not at what is done in the name of a religion...   Look at the core teachings of all the great religions of the world and there you will find kindness, gentleness, compassion, justice and forgiveness

Last weekend I was in Los Angeles working with military veterans under the theme of The journey from Fear to Courage and the Healing of the Heart.

We are all born with a conscience and I believe we all have something of the divine in us.  We put uniforms on innocent young people, we teach them to hate and then we give them a license to kill other young people and we tell them it is not murder.

And yet throughout history, old soldiers have cried themselves to sleep because of what they have done; haunted by moral and spiritual injury.

And still, we go on glorifying war giving medals to those who kill other human beings.

Today it is the permanent members of the Security Council who are responsible for world peace.   The same members of the Security Council are together with Germany, the greatest arms manufacturers in the world.

Many of the same countries that profit from war respond with hard hearts to the largest number of refugees in human history

Those fleeing hunger and war are being rejected by the two wealthiest regions of the world.

Refugees are washing up on beaches in the Mediterranean. Africans are bought and sold as slaves in Libya today.

You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will be as one

This year it is 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela.....He says to all of us: No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you

In our time we are seeing the greatest accumulation of wealth in the hands of fewer individuals.  The biggest cities of the richest country of the world are filled with homeless people.

John Lennon spoke of the brotherhood of man.

Today we speak of women and men and those who are transgendered.

I n our work of healing of memories across the whole world, there are two dominant narratives: one is gender based violence and the other is childhood trauma.

The time has come to heal the wounds of history

I believe that the way ME TOO has broken the silence  of all pervasive gender based violence creates the conditions to systematically dismantle patriarchy ....this will lead to the liberation of women and men too

The whole world knows that there is climate change......well maybe all except one person.  Mother earth is crying out in deep pain

Ironically it is the indigenous people those who are the foundation nations of the human family who hold the sacred knowledge of how we can live in harmony with Mother earth..... the very ones who have suffered genocide, decimation and humiliation

My dear friends especially you who are the young leaders of today and tomorrow

As Alice Walker famously quoted: We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In 1948 the world adopted  the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In 2018,  a hundred years since the end of the first World War and a hundred years since the birth of Nelson Mandela.

following on the Suffragettes, those who fought to end slavery,  those who campaigned for peace in Vietnam,

the whole world united to end apartheid

In 1976 school children were shot in the streets in South Africa and then mobilized to end apartheid

In the United States the young people are marching for our lives to end gun violence

Now is the time for world peace for the swords to be turned into ploughshares

Today we need a new world wide peace movement

it is this generation that must insist on total nuclear disarmament..  not just on the Korean peninsula but also in the US and the UK and and and

In South Africa we renounced nuclear capability so you can too

We are all part of the world of Facebook and Instagram and whatsapp and twitter.... the communication Revolution

Now it is time for a revolution of generosity and compassion, for conflict resolution and healing of memories.... or as Pope Francis speaks about a tsunami of Mercy and kindness

Let our arms factories transform themselves into creating tools for agriculture or new vaccines or let them go bust

Let every goverment create Ministries of Peace,  Conflict resolution and Interfaith dialogue as each year we shrink our defence budgets

Let every school child be encouraged and taught how to develop empathy and compassion

Let all places of learning  be places where there is head learning and heart learning and soul learning.

With your permission, I would like to end on a very personal note.

In 1990 I received a letter bomb from the apartheid regime that was supposed to kill me. Through the years I have often asked myself Why did I survive a bomb that was supposed to kill unlike so many others who also deserved to live.  My wounds bear witness to what evil and hatred and racism does....disfiguring and destroying.

My spirit bears witness to the greater truth that stronger than evil and hatred and death are gentleness, kindness, compassion, justice,, love and Life

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Songwriters: John Winston Lennon

About Us

The Institute for the Healing of Memories seeks to contribute to the healing journey of individuals, communities and nations. Our work is grounded in the belief that we are all in need of healing, because of what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what has been done to us.

Contact Us

  • Institute for Healing of Memories
    5 Eastry Road, Claremont,
    Cape Town, 7708, South Africa

  • +27 21 683 6231