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December 17, 2007     530 Words

Immaculée Ilibagiza: Surviving Rwanda’s Genocide

CINCINNATI—For Immaculée Ilibagiza, the horror didn’t end after she left the bathroom she shared with seven other Tutsi women for 91 days back in 1994. They were hiding from Hutu murderers, who regularly passed by chanting slogans that described the women as cockroaches who should be stamped out—as thousands of other Tutsis were—during the Rwandan genocide.

In those harrowing days, Immaculée’s faith helped her survive: A simple rosary, a gift from her father, guided her through the ordeal. In subsequent years, that same faith also helped her to forgive.

Immaculée’s remarkable story of survival and salvation is the subject of St. Anthony Messenger’s January cover article entitled, “Immaculée Ilibagiza: Forgiveness Amidst Despair,” by Peter Feuerherd. After December 26, the article will be posted at:

Experts on Rwanda’s history point to the longstanding discord between the two main tribes, aggravated by colonial powers that placed the Tutsis in possession of most of the important jobs. Resentments festered for decades, occasionally breaking out in violence. But few predicted the horrors that would come.

As she hid the bathroom, Immaculée could only guess at the fate of her family. Her mother, father and two brothers were murdered. (Another brother was away at university at the time of the genocide and spared.) The Hutu murderers killed Tutsis in churches, schools and camps where they huddled for protection. Many were ripped apart by machetes.

In the midst of chaos and death, Immaculée clung to the rosary. “The rosary beads helped me concentrate on the Gospel and kept the words of God alive in my mind,” Immaculée wrote in her book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (Hay House). “Even as my body shriveled, my soul was nourished through my deepening relationship with God.”

She survived the genocide but, over time, forgiveness would not come easily. The prayers of the rosary, particularly the line in the Lord’s Prayer calling upon Christians to forgive those who do wrong to them, resonated throughout her tribulations.

“I had to mean the words I was saying. I couldn’t say them half-heartedly,” she says.

Thirteen years later, Immaculée has moved on, somewhat. She is married to an American Catholic, Bryan Black, who works at the United Nations, and they have two children. But she is still a messenger of her experience, giving talks around the United States and the world about forgiveness. A foundation she began supports efforts to help African children, including those in Rwanda, which she still visits regularly.

Her life’s work, including the book, has inspired countless others. One Jewish woman in her 90s, whose family was murdered in the Nazi Holocaust, approached Immaculée after one talk and told her, “Now I can be at peace. I wanted to see someone who lived it and could tell me it was possible to forgive.”

 But Immaculée is humble. “I am just a channel,” she says. “God will do the miracles.”


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