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
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: AmericanCatholic.org.
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
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
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
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.”
granted to reprint this release.