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Tell All Souls About My Mercy

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By Marian Tascio

Immaculee Ilibagiza has had a lot to forgive — more than any of us will ever be called upon to forgive. Among the relatives, neighbors, and friends who were members of her tribe, only Immaculee and her brother survived the Rwandan genocide in 1994: her brother because he was away at school, Immaculee because she was hiding in the house of a Protestant minister. More specifically, she was hiding in his three-by-four-foot bathroom with five other women.

After hearing Immaculee speak at the 3rd Annual Divine Mercy Conference in the Bronx on Feb. 9, I winced at the knowledge of how little I had to forgive and how stubbornly I had been clinging to my anger. And it wasn't only for the sin of mercilessness that I regretted my reluctance to forgive. When I looked at Immaculee, I saw a women filled with joy. The way she spoke about her slain parents and brothers made it clear how much she had loved them, and yet here she was, describing the last time she had ever seen them and the horrible way they died, and her face radiated serenity and happiness.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a column about my need to forgive my wedding photographer. She was months overdue on delivering my photos, and she wouldn't return my calls or emails. I was terrified that I had lost both my money and the wedding pictures.

By the day of the conference, I still hadn't forgiven her. I knew she wasn't hurting me on purpose, but I stopped caring about that. I encased my heart in ice and directed venomous thoughts and words toward her. That was the point at which her sin of dishonest business dealings gave way to my sin of withholding forgiveness, and I was the one who would suffer for it.

I have heard that carrying resentment is like drinking poison while hoping someone else will die. My anger toward this woman was poison. I was miserable, tense, and almost hysterical every time I thought of her. And because I knew my wrath was sinful, it affected my prayer life, too. I knew Jesus saw into my heart and wasn't pleased. I knew that each time I said the Lord's Prayer, I was admitting to a rejection of God's mercy. By refusing to forgive the one who had trespassed against me, I was denying God the chance to forgive me my trespasses.

The line for confession at the conference was long. I pulled out my rosary and knew I needed to offer my prayer for the photographer: not that I would get my photos, but just for her. I didn't enjoy it at first. Rage threatened to grip me as soon as I thought her name. But I concentrated on picturing Our Lady tenderly embracing her, and gradually I felt the ice begin to crack.

Immaculee finally forgave her loved ones' murderers because she realized that, like Jesus' executioners, they "didn't get it." If they had understood what they were doing, they would have acted differently. Her love for them consisted simply in the wish that they be healed of their blindness.

My wedding photographer was not malicious, but she was hurting many people. If she fully understood that, she would not be doing this. And the truth was that I wanted that wellness for her, not just for my sake and the sake of the other brides in my position, but for her own sake, too. I envisioned the love with which Mary looked at her and knew that I could not wish anything but good for her. In the days following the conference, whenever I thought of her, I said Hail Marys. I did it for myself as much as for her: anger was replaced by calm. Mercy, to summarize Father Benedict Groeschel's talk at the conference, makes us sane.

Four days later, I received an email saying that my unedited photos were in the mail. It made sense. I had prayed for her well-being, and she had to be well in order to live her life productively, including running her business. I don't know when or if I'll receive the edited photos she owes me, but now I can look at those unedited photos with joy and not bitterness. And as Immaculee finally did, I can pray every word of the Lord's Prayer, knowing that the rays from Jesus' heart have melted the ice around my heart, making it possible for mercy to come in once more.

Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.

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donna .e. - Feb 25, 2008

Like most things in life, forgiveness is a process. Sometimes a long and difficult process. God knows that human beings sometimes need that time period to work on the emotional pain that the other person caused before they can "truly and honestly" forgive. You can say oh yes I've forgiven but in your heart if you search you'll see sometimes the truth is you havent and then you have to work on forgiving yourself for not forgiving others! So its not cut and dry, the business of forgiveness is a process that can be long or can be quick, depending on the person and their individual background and upbringing. My mom always said let bygones be bygones, and other things that made us learn forgiveness and so I forgive fairly quickly, my husband wasnt brought up that way so its harder for him to just let it go, which is unfortunate for him, because its the one who isnt forgiving that truly suffers in the end, isnt it? Thats the real truth behind forgiving others.

MRS. G. J. T. WOLFE, ocds - Feb 25, 2008

St. Steven's prayer is also poverful and worth repeating

sebastian - Feb 25, 2008

To forgive is to follow Lord Jesus, King of Mercy. Good Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, wipe out the wreaths of wrath from our lives. JESUS, I trust in You.

Susan - Feb 26, 2008

Immaculee has been such an inspiration in my life too. I read her memoir two years ago and I have thought about her probably every day since then. I think when you mentioned the joy she has that is the evangelization that is contagious. I had the joy of hearing her speak and being in her presence and I really felt her pure love that radiated from her forgiving heart. When I have things to forgive I also think of Immaculee and I pray "Jesus, I choose Divine Mercy, Fill me up." Isn't it wonderful how Jesus comes through. Immaculee has taught me how with Jesus our burden is light.

Amber - Mar 1, 2008

There's a good interview with Immaculee on God Tube. You can view part 1 here: http://www.godtube.com/view_video.php?viewkey=09683cc58e4c567b99ed

Ms. S. M. - Mar 4, 2008

Forgiveness is not a process. Forgiveness is an act of the will. It is a DECISION that we have to make in order to be forgiven.

Our feelings get in the way so forgiveness just seems to be a process. What makes it seem like a "process" is our own bitter feelings.

Ask for the grace to forgive, then just forgive. After that, ask for the grace to "get over it" so that your feelings won't get in the way of you getting on with your life.

It's that simple. Don't make it out to be more difficult and don't make it out to be a "process."