This is a remarkable true story about hate, murder, love, and forgiveness amidst the genocide in Rwanda. For 3 months Immaculee Ilibagiza survived the murderous rampage in a 3' x 4... Read more
Photo: Ellen Miller
Immaculee Ilibagiza stands at the foot of the statue of The Divine Mercy in Kibeho.
The Visions and the Genocide
In Rwanda, Healing Comes through Our Lord and Our Lady
It's well known that 13 years ago, during the course of just 100 days, more than 1 million Rwandan Tutsis were brutally killed by Hutu mobs in one of history's worst cases of genocide.
What isn't well known is that 13 years before the killings began, the Blessed Virgin Mary began appearing to three young Rwandan women in the small town of Kibeho. She not only urged prayer, fasting, and a conversion of heart, many believe she also prophesied the genocide that ravaged this central African republic in 1994-1995.
Each of the three women reported seeing "a river of blood," "people who killed one another," "abandoned bodies with no one to bury them," "a tree on fire," "an open chasm," "a monster and decapitated heads."
Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the genocide, knows all about these things — about the Marian apparitions in Kibeho and about the visions that came to life.
A friend of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Immaculee appears tonight on EWTN's "Life on the Rock," at 8 p.m. EST (encores on Friday at 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Sunday at 11 p.m.). She will not only talk about the apparitions — on this, the 25th anniversary year of the first apparitions in Kibeho — she will also discuss the genocide and how it solidified her trust in God.
It was Our Lady to whom Immaculee turned during those terrifying months of the genocide. And now, in the aftermath, Immaculee, a Divine Mercy devotee, says that only through mercy and forgiveness can her homeland heal.
This story has many strands. But let's start with Our Lady — she who points to and glorifies her Son, Jesus Christ.
Mother of the Word
Mary first appeared in Kibeho on Nov. 28, 1981. Alphonsine Mumureke, who was present at the first apparition, asked Our Lady, "Who are you?" The reply was: "Ndi Nyina Wa Jambo," which means "I am the Mother of the Word" — that is to say, the Mother of God.
What was Our Lady's message? When interviewed last year by Fr. Leszek Czelusniak, MIC, who is in charge of the Marians' mission in Rwanda, one of the visionaries, Nathalie Mukamazimpaka, summarized Our Lady's message:
The Holy Virgin insisted on the need for prayer. She said that the world is bad. It is necessary to pray, to pray, to pray a lot for this world that is bad, to pray for sinners, to pray for their conversion. She insisted a lot on the need for conversion: Convert to God! Convert to God! Convert to God! While saying that people don't respect God's commands, that people have a hard heart, she also asked us to meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary and to recite it every day. She also taught us the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows. She asked us to pray it every Tuesday and Friday. She asked us to obey the Church, to love God in truth, and to love our neighbor in humility and simplicity.
She spoke of the need for mortification, a spirit of penitence and sacrifice. She also spoke of the need for suffering, to bear our sufferings every day. She said that no one enters heaven without suffering. She also told us that acts of charity for the poor make us beautiful flowers that God likes. She wanted a chapel to be constructed here in Kibeho, so everyone would remember her visit and pray for the Church and religious. Holy Mary spoke to us in Kinyarwanda [the language of Rwanda] with her very soft voice.
After years of study, the Catholic Church officially recognized the apparitions on June 29, 2001. The recognition has helped make Kibeho the "Lourdes of Africa." Thousands make a pilgrimage there annually to a shrine that has been built in honor of Our Lady of Kibeho.
At the urging of the local Bishop, Augustin Misago, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception have established a presence in Kibeho in order to help insure that the many pilgrims who now flock there receive sound teachings about Mary to avoid any misinterpretation of the apparitions. The Marians are also there to teach the message of Divine Mercy.
It's fitting that the Marians call their formation center in Kibeho "Cana," to honor Mary's famous intervention at the wedding feast of Cana in which Jesus performed His first miracle when He turned water into wine. That miracle was preceded by Mary's words to the wedding servers, "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:5). After all, we are all called to heed her advice since we, too, are His servants.
"What we do, we do for God," says Fr. Leszek. "It is the will of God, as Our Lady of Kibeho reminded us, to have harmony in the world. Her message in Kibeho is a message for the world: to pray, pray, pray, and repent. That's what it's all about."
The Marians have also placed an 18-foot-tall statue of The Divine Mercy on their hillside overlooking the shrine in Kibeho. With the statue, a huge draw, it's as if mercy is being gravity fed to the people and visitors of Kibeho, site of the massacre of 25,000 people alone.
"Divine Mercy has resulted in big changes, big changes in Kibeho," says Fr. Leszek. "It's helping to heal wounds. For the people here, Divine Mercy is like medicine. It's a healing balm."
It would be difficult to find a place more in need of mercy than Rwanda.
'Left to Tell'
Immaculee, who was a guest speaker at the Marians' 2007 Divine Mercy Sunday celebration in Stockbridge, Mass., believes that only through turning to our Lord and Our Lady can Rwanda — and the world — find healing.
Immaculee turned to Our Lady during those three terrifying months when members of the Hutu tribe were systematically exterminating Tutsis throughout Rwanda. She prayed the Rosary fervently, using the rosary beads her father gave her as the murderers approached their small village. She also prayed the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy.
Immaculee explains it all in her book, Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (Hay House, 2006).
She recalls hearing the killers call her by name. "She's here ... we know she's here somewhere. ... Find her — find Immaculee," one of them said. They were carrying machetes, spears and hoes. Some were her former friends and neighbors — people with whom Immaculee had grown up, played, and went to school.
She was hiding in a 3-foot-by-4-foot bathroom with a group of other women, powerless as she heard the cries and screams of people out on the street being slaughtered — fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, every member of Rwanda's minority Tutsi tribe that the murdering mobs could find.
Her father and younger brother, Vianney, were shot to death. Her mother and her most beloved brother, Damascene, were hacked to death. Only Immaculee's oldest brother, Aimable, abroad during the genocide, survived.
In a talk she gave at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Mass., a year ago, Immaculee shared the spiritual lessons she learned while hiding in that tiny bathroom for 91 days.
"Being spared is much different from being saved," Immaculee said. "And this lesson forever changed me. It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family."
The voices of doubt continually crept into her thoughts. Yet she prayed more and more intensely. "Please open my heart, Lord, and show me how to forgive," she would pray. "I'm not strong enough to squash my hatred — they've wronged us all so much ... my hatred is so heavy that it could crush me. Touch my heart, Lord, and show me how to forgive."
One night, she heard screaming outside the house, and then a baby crying. She realized the killers must have killed the mother and left the baby to die in the road. The child cried all night. The next day its cries grew frail. And by the evening, the child was silent.
Immaculee writes: "I prayed for God to receive the child's innocent soul, and then asked Him, 'How can I forgive people who would do such a thing to an infant?'"
Then, something amazing happened. She says she heard an answer: "You are all My children ... and the baby is with Me now." She writes: "It was such a simple sentence, but it was the answer to the prayers I'd been lost in for days."
She had reached an epiphany. Suddenly, the words that once rang so hollow to her — "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" — now resounded in her soul as the chimes of salvation. She realized that hating the killers was preventing her from trusting God.
"Their minds had been infected with the evil that had spread across the country, but their souls weren't evil," Immaculee writes. "Despite their atrocities, they were children of God ... I knew that I couldn't ask God to love me if I were unwilling to love His children."
At that moment, she prayed for the killers, that their sins be forgiven and that they recognize the horrific error of their ways before their time on Earth expired. She held onto her father's rosary beads and again heard God's voice: "Forgive them; they know not what they do."
She had found peace. She writes how Jesus spoke to her heart: "Trust in Me, and know that I will never leave you. Trust in me, and have no more fear." And, indeed, each time the killers came to ransack the house, miraculously, they never discovered the women.
By the time she emerged from the bathroom, her weight had gone from 115 pounds to 65 pounds. She and the other women fled to a nearby French military camp for protection. There, she learned in brutal detail the fates of her family members.
Immaculee set about rebuilding her life as the violence in Rwanda ended. She has established a foundation, the Left to Tell Charitable Fund to aid victims of the genocide. She lives in the United States now and is married with two children.
'Hunger for God'
It's no accident that when Immaculee was a child, her father took her to Kibeho several times to sit in with the visionaries during Our Lady's apparitions. Immaculee was raised knowing that Mary is real; she is with us; she is our powerful intercessor; she brings healing; and she draws us closer to Christ.
"There has been so much violence — this country has been so traumatized," says Fr. Leszek. "We still see terrible wounds that affect people, especially the youth. But we also see a real hunger for God."
The visionary Nathalie, when interviewed by Fr. Leszek, said that Our Lady told her to approach her with trust and to "love what is from heaven more than that of the earth because earthly things pass quickly. In your life, you will have a lot of suffering."
Nathalie hastened to add that Our Lady's message is "for the whole world. It is not only for Rwanda."