Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

June 1, 2009

Woman Warrior of the Month June: Immaculée Ilibagiza

This month, I'd like to introduce the Woman Warrior Rwandan refugee, and now American citizen Immaculée Ilibagiza. I don't know if you have ever heard of her, but she's been a media sensation since her book Left to Tell emerged last year. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, the media has not featured two new books by Ilibagiza: Led by Faith and Our Lady of Kibeho, who appeared in Rwanda just before the genocide began.

If you have never read Immaculée's story, do so! She survived the genocide of Rwanda in the early 1990's, while her entire family - parents and all her brothers -- were brutally slaughtered by people who were at one time close family friends and neighbors. She was hidden in a tiny bathroom for months with seven other women. Immaculée found the strength to pull through and forgive those who murdered her loved ones. Her weapon of choice: the rosary. There are two particularly moving passages in her story Left to Tell. First, the story her brother's martyrdom at the hands of the Hutu murderers. It's reminiscent of St. Sebastian's death. And the story of her confrontation with those murderers: she forgave. What a woman of strength!!!! Here's a description of her story from her website:
Immaculée's life was transformed dramatically during the 1994 Rwandan genocide where she and seven other women spent 91 days huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor's house. Immaculée entered the bathroom a vibrant, 115-pound university student with a loving family - she emerged weighing just 65 pounds to find her entire family had been brutally murdered (with the exception of one brother who had been studying out of the country).

Immaculée credits her salvage mostly to prayer and to a set of rosary beads given to her by her devout Catholic father prior to going into hiding. Anger and resentment about her situation were literally eating her alive and destroying her faith, but rather than succumbing to the rage that she felt, Immaculée instead turned to prayer. She began to pray the rosary as a way of drowning out the negativity that was building up inside her. Immaculée found solace and peace in prayer and began to pray from the time she opened her eyes in the morning to the time she closed her eyes at night. Through prayer, she eventually found it possible, and in fact imperative, to forgive her tormentors and her family's murderers.

Immaculée's strength in her faith empowered her to stare down a man armed with a machete threatening to kill her during her escape. She also later came face to face with the killer of her mother and her brother and said the unthinkable, "I forgive you." Immaculée knew, while in hiding, that she would have to overcome immeasurable odds without her family and with her country destroyed. Fortunately, Immaculée utilized her time in that tiny bathroom to teach herself English with only The Bible and a dictionary; once freed she was able to secure a job with the United Nations.
If you are interested in hearing about this story from Immaculée herself, you can find a list of her public appearances here.

1 comment:

Julian said...

I'm loving Left to Tell...

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