Rwandan Genocide survivor, Immaculée brings message of forgiveness to campus

Photo by Elizabeth Bunnell
Photo by Elizabeth Bunnell


We have the power to change the future through prayer, said Immaculée Ilibagiza, survivor of the Rwandan Genocide and author of “Left to Tell,” on Tuesday evening in the Finnegan Fieldhouse.

With over 1,200 people estimated in the audience waiting to hear her speak on the Feast of the Annunciation, Ilibagiza climbed the steps to the stage holding her rosary. Her talk was entitled, “Forgiveness: A Lenten Message.”

“I would not have been here if Mary had not given me her rosary,” said Ilibagiza as she began to tell her story. She told all listening how much the Rwandan Genocide taught her about love, hope and forgiveness.

Ilibagiza survived the genocide by hiding for 91 days in a 3-by-4-foot bathroom with seven other women whose ages ranged from 7 to 55.

“I know that God is there, because I met him in the bathroom,” said Ilibagiza. She said that her hatred and fear of the people who killed her family gradually turned into love and forgiveness through her constant prayer during those days hiding in the bathroom.

She told all present that while in hiding, she would pray the rosary 27 times every day, as well as 40 divine mercy chaplets from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Ilibagiza said that while praying she felt like she was laying in Our Lady’s lap.

Ilibagiza said the genocide happened because of a lack of love for people who are different and that it was started by powerful and well-educated people.

“We can grow our brains, but if we don’t grow love…” she said that terrible things such as the genocide will happen.

“No one lives on earth without suffering,” said Ilibagiza. “People on the side of love have suffered … No matter what happens, hold on to God and Our Lady … o anyone can forgive.”

She spoke about the appearances of Our Lady in Kibeho, Rwanda, in Africa and the Seven Sorrows Rosary. She said that Our Lady of Kibeho predicted the genocide would happen if people did not return to prayer, faithfulness and love of one another again.

Ilibagiza asked all present to “please treat people you have as a gift from God” and to not “put people in boxes” but to open their hearts to all people. She warned that if they did not, they would miss many angels in their lives.

Stasia Phillips, a junior at Franciscan, said, “It was very powerful and very moving. It really spoke to me, just a reminder that the Lord is always with us in whatever place we are in or whatever suffering we are going through or whatever joy we are going through, he is always with us.”

Fellow junior Franciscan student, Jarryd Lagado said, “A lot of the stuff about forgiveness and about how she started meditating on the different words of the Our Father … that really started to move me. It provoked me to see who I am not forgiving in my life. That was kind of her sending off statement: When you talk to someone, remember that their mother and their father are watching.”

Our Lady of Sorrows Club, Guardians of the Divine Word Household, Latinos for Christ, Love of the Lamb Household, Students for a Fair Society, Brothers of the Eternal Song Household, Student Government, The Office of Evangelization, Christian Outreach and the Student Life Office helped to co-sponsor the event.

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