Rwandan genocide survivor to visit local parishes next month

Immaculee Ilibagiza knows what it is like to rely on the power of prayer.

With nothing other than rosary beads and prayer to sustain her, she survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide by hiding in a small bathroom with seven other women for 91 days. She lived through the systematic slaughter, when an estimated 800,000 people — including most members of her family — were brutally murdered in the central African nation.

She will speak at two parishes in the Diocese of Camden next month. No tickets are left for her appearance at Assumption Parish, Atco, on Tuesday, Nov. 10, and they are going fast for her talk at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, Gibbsboro, on Monday, Nov. 16.

Ilibagiza’s survival account is chronicled in her book, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.”

Ilibagiza, raised in a devout Catholic family and a member of the Tutsi ethnic group of Rwanda, was a college student when the genocide began. Amid the atrocity she embarked on an inward, spiritual journey clinging to her father’s rosary beads that he gave her just before she went into hiding.

But the soul-searching was not easy she told an audience at the campus of Dominican-run Caldwell College in 2007. “I had a fight within my heart,” she said. “I had to find my strength. The killers were outside my door. How do you forgive killers? There were days that I was sweating because of my anger.

“I thought to myself: ‘This is what it feels like to hate.’ I started to say the rosary and felt the love of God. I forgave the killers and I started to pray for them. I know it’s wrong what they did, but in my heart I wish them to change and find the truth,” she said.

When order was re-established in Rwanda in July 1994, Ilibagiza emerged from three months of seclusion looking like a skeleton. She regained her health and found employment with a local United Nations development office. She later married and today has two children. One of her brothers also survived the genocide and today he is a doctor in Senegal.

“Prayer is the practice of love,” she said. “It can change the world. It sounds so simple, but it is true. Hold onto hope and find peace in your heart. Put your trust in God.”

Contributing to this story was Catholic News Service.

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