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placeholder Rwandan survivor speaks of forgiveness

Diverse ministries mark priestly life of ‘Father Manny’

Diocese places focus on supporting Hispanic vocations

Survey reports increased interest in religious vocations for fourth straight year

Five new seminarians recount vocation journeys

Chautauqua 16: celebrating ethnic diversity

Holy Cross Brothers have their first canonized saint: a college doorman for 40 years

Social Security at 75: What are the next steps?

Vatican official: IVF opened ‘wrong door’ to treating infertility

Archbishop Vigneron challenges research involving embryos

Pew survey finds more Catholics now support same-sex marriage

Two new books examine clergy sex abuse crisis

Comic winner credits Jesuit priest with helping turn his life around

New rector for Oakland cathedral installed

El Sobrante parish to rededicate its church

Holy Names U. hosts mayoral forum

Oakland’s St. Elizabeth High School honors retiring Coach Bob Howard

Dominican nun returns to Iraq after decade of work in Jordan

Cloistered nuns in France sign recording deal for album of ancient Gregorian chant

• Father Anthony Gilbert Cordeiro, OP
• Sister Margaret Anne Henn, OP

placeholder October 18, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA
Rwandan survivor speaks of forgiveness

CALDWELL, N.J. (CNS) — Immaculee Ilibagiza knows what it is like to rely on the power of prayer.

Immaculee Ilibagiza will speak at Holy Rosary Church in Antioch on Oct. 30.

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 tell her story of survival on Saturday, Oct. 30, at Holy Rosary Church in Antioch at 7:30 p.m. This is her second appearance in the Oakland Diocese since publishing “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” (Hay House, Carlsbad, Calif., 2006). She spoke at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland in September 2007.

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. “I had a fight within my heart,” she told students at Dominican-run Caldwell College, April 18, 2007, just two days after a lone gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., before turning the gun on himself.

Book review

“Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust,” by Immaculee Ilibagiza. Hay House (Carlsbad, Calif., 2006). 214 pp., $24.95.

Set within the horrors of the time before and during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, this autobiographical book tells about empowerment through prayer and relying solely on God’s love and intervention for survival.

Immaculee Ilibagiza tells her cleanly written story of survival — and of the brutal deaths in her country and her family — with such clarity and truthfulness that it is a blessing and a curse for the reader.

One can feel the love and pride she has for her family and the fear she experiences while crammed with other women in a tiny bathroom for months, hearing the murderers outside call them cockroaches. The reader also cries her tears as she discovers that her family has been killed.

Ilibagiza’s life story is not so much fo-cused on self-growth and individual growth, but more on growth in dependence on others and mostly on God and prayer. Her submission to God’s will is humbling as is the bravery she was granted through prayer.

The crux of the story is set within the context of the genocide in Rwanda, when much of the world turned a blind eye to the murders, rapes, house-burnings and blatant propaganda of the war.

The survivors are the witnesses to the genocide, left to tell the story, to bury their family and friends, and to make the choice to forgive or to live in hatred and revenge.

It was Ilibagiza’s burden being left to tell and learn how to forgive so reconciliation would squelch the flames that could threaten further fires to repeat what was the Rwandan holocaust. Her story of strength and hope which she received from God through her deep spiritual communication with him is nothing less than inspiring and compelling.

It is a timeless and universal story, fit for any reader ready for inspiration.

(Reviewed by Regina Linskey, Catholic News Service)
“Many people cry out: Why is there so much evil in the world?” she said when asked to compare her experience with the shootings at Virginia Tech. “Don’t hate back. People must pray for each other,” she said.

“Prayer is the practice of love,” she continued. “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.”

Of her ordeal 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 now has two children. One of her brothers also survived the genocide and today is a doctor.

Ilibagiza acknowledged there is a spiritually therapeutic quality for herself and her audiences in the presentations she gives speaking out against the atrocities in Rwanda.

“I survived a genocide, but you must keep surviving. I’m a witness. If I can do this, then so be it,” she said, referring to her mission as a public speaker.

A welcome reception for Ilibagiza will be held on Oct. 29 at the Antioch Historical Society at 7 p.m. Tickets are $75. Tickets for the lecture on Oct. 30 are $25 each. Doors will open at 6:45 p.m. with a music program at 7:15 p.m.

For information about tickets for the reception and the lecture, call Jackie Hooke at (925) 757-9595 or Barbara Daniels at (925) 757-4020.

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