Last Friday, we had the wonderful opportunity to listen to Immaculee Ilibagiza, author of LEFT TO TELL, a miraculous story of hope and forgiveness during the Rwandan holocaust of 1994. I'd read the book a few years ago when a good friend recommended it to me, and then Max read it in his Theology class. We both agreed that it's grace from God that allows a person to forgive such heinous crimes. Briefly, in 1994, when the plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down, within the hour, Hutus began killing Tutsis. It had been well-orchestrated. The world did not intervene to stop this massacre--I remember hearing the news and could not understand why nobody would stop the killing--and by the time they did, three months later, 1 million people lay hacked, shot, or burned to death. It was neighbor against neighbor. People forgot their friendships. Immaculee says hatred masked any and all love and the truth. She prayed what Jesus prayed on the Cross, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."
This short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzuK_NXyE8U gives a good summary and this slightly longer one shows how and where Immaculee, along with other women, survived: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7Od6V6Z3ug and this short article explains the conflicts between the two so-called tribes. And our local newspaper did a wonderful write-up of the event.
Briefly, Immaculee's parents were prominent teachers in their community, devout Catholics. People came to them for advice but they only had their faith. She said that her father told her to go to a Protestant preacher's house. He was Hutu and would keep her safe. He put her in a tiny bathroom (3 ft x 4 ft) off his bedroom. She said, "I can't stay here. It's too small." But no matter. Things can always get worse. He returned with five more women. And later still, with two more. They had to be absolutely quiet and they stayed like that, sitting, standing, sleeping on top of one another for 91 days! The preacher would bring a plate of food whenever he could and the eight women would share the meal.
After a week, she was fed up with the fear and anger and sorrow in her heart. The preacher kept a radio in the bedroom so that they could hear the news. Private radio stations were used to propagate hate. They were giving away prizes for the most number of Tutsis killed.
She had the presence of mind to ask for a Bible from her protector. He gave her one and she already had her father's rosary. Prayer brought peace. She prayed many rosaries each day. I loved how she explained it--the rosary is simply meditating upon the life of Jesus with His mother Mary in a very organized manner. And Mary really teaches her to pray--to pray with her heart. She'd being with "Our Father" and get stuck. "Are we really all His children? No, no, no. Not the evil people who are trying to kill us. Alas, they too are God's children and He loves them." That simple "our" helped her to see her would-be killers as her brothers. In our Lord's Prayer, we ask to be forgiven as we have forgiven those who've trespassed against us. This is the verse that she could not pray. So she skipped it. However, Our Lord is very patient and eventually Immaculee was able to ask for the desire to forgive and later was able to forgive those who killed all her family (except for one brother who was out of the country at the time).
She told a very interesting story about Our Lady of Kibeho. It is the only Marian apparition that has been approved on the continent of Africa and the message from our Lady is not just for Rwanda or Africa but for the whole world. She appeared to three young girls and encouraged them to pray from the heart, take the faith seriously, and to love one another. She showed them visions of what would happen--the massacre--if the people did not turn to God. Immaculee remembers this from the time she was a child, how the girls shook from the terrible visions they had. This was twelve years before the massacre.
This is the same message of Fatima--return to God. But we don't listen. Immaculee is trying to change that. She is light and salt with her message of hope and forgiveness, without which there can be no peace. Parce, parce, Domine!