By Susith Fernando
A South African Anglican priest visited Sri Lanka to support the nation’s healing after years of ethnic strife between the majority Sinhalese and Tamils in a bid to help bring lasting peace.
During his visit, Father Michael Lapsley spoke to Buddhist monks, Catholic priests and the general public, where he stressed the need to examine personal tragedies and other nightmares of war to heal both victims and perpetrators via restorative justice.
New Zealand-born Father Lapsley has himself turned his own sufferings into a call for peace and forgiveness. In 1990, security forces of the ruling aparthied government sent Father Lapsley a parcel containing two religious magazines. Inside one was a sophisticated bomb and when he opened the magazine, it blew off both his hands, destroyed one eye and burned him severely. Coming out of that tragic experience, the activist priest would go on to establish the Institute for Healing of Memories, which has assisted many South Africans work through their trauma.
During his Sri Lankan talks, the Anglican priest stressed the need for victims to speak about the personal war-related tragedies and on how restorative justice can help heal both the victims and perpetrators.
“After a war or national crisis we can provide water, housing, electricity and other facilities to the people but if there is hatred and bitterness we cannot create a better society,” Father Lapsley told ucanews.com.
“It is encouraging when Sri Lanka talks about transitional justice, healing and reconciliation. That is good but the danger is they become slogans,” he said, adding that people must accept the damages each community has done to each other.
“We cannot turn the page of history without reading it. If we want to live in peace, we have to accept the damage done to each other,” he said.
The U.N. Human Rights Office had documented killings, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, torture and attacks on civilians between 2002 and 2011 committed on both sides of Sri Lanka’s civil war, which came to an official end in 2009 when the government overran Tamil guerrillas in the country’s north.
According to the U.N. the war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone.
The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) has been working with Father Lapsely for several years, organizing talks, healing sessions and training workshops at temples and Catholic churches, examining how the teachings of Christianity and Buddhism can be used to avoid another war.
“We first met Father Lapsley in 2013 and invited him to bring his mission to Sri Lanka. This is his fourth visit now and we have conducted programs with various groups belonging to different communities and religions,” said the Rev. W.P. Ebenezer Joseph, NCCSL general secretary.
Buddhist leaders also recognized the need for Father Lapsley’s expertise.
“We must understand, after repeated youth uprisings and ethnic wars, we are a wounded nation. Even though some of us did not fight in the war or were not directly involved in violence, we were indirectly part of it,” said Venerable Dammananda, a university lecturer attached to the Department of History, Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Kelaniya.
“The wound has not been healed and that is why the violence keeps recurring,” the Buddhist monk said.