“One of the things that the experience of the genocide taught me to renew the importance of my faith in my life.” Said Immaculée to begin her talk at the Regnum Christi Gala for the Washington DC area on October 20. She then picked up on the gala theme of “Celebrating Family Fully Alive” and directed part of her talk that way.
Immaculée Ilibagiza has probably one of the most well-known spiritual stories of the past 30 years. In 1994 she had to hide in a tiny bathroom for 91 days during the Rwandan genocide during which she lost her whole family.
At first she was mad at God but slowly she learned that the only thing she would do was pray and so she would pray dozens of rosaries a day. This lead her to be able to forgive the men in the opposing tribe who killed her family.
She mentioned these things in her talk but they are already covered in her NYT-bestselling book Left to Tell, in The New York Times, on 60 Minutes, on her website, and other places. What was unique about this talk was her coverage of her family’s prayer before the genocide as a model of a praying family.
“If there is one thing that helps families, that helps us, that helped my parents… it was prayer.” Immaculée began her discussion on family prayer. She reflected on what made her parents special and answered, “It was the prayer they shared.”
She explained her family’s practice: “Every single night we knelt before the Sacred Heart, the picture of the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady, and the cross between them, and we would pray our Catholic prayers… The prayers were like a song where my dad would start the prayers and we’d all continue, ‘Act of contrition…’ ‘Act of faith…’ Every single night we prayed together.”
They even had contingency plans as Immaculée continued, “If my dad would go on a mission he would call a meeting at home and he would ask my brother to start the prayer, to be the man of the house. For him, to lead the family is to lead the prayers, and I felt that was the link holding our family together.”
Immaculée attributes all she has done to touch the world through her story to her family prayers. She recommends this to everyone: “If there is anything I would advise to any family is that if you have the opportunity to pray together: it is everything.”
Her story revolves around forgiveness but Immaculée thinks forgiveness begins in the family – whether it be between couples, between parents and children, or even between fellow religious in community. “I would not be here today if I had not come to understand how forgiveness is so important.”
Even in friendship she sees forgiveness: “Everyone who has a friend ends up hurting one another and we learn forgiveness is important… There is no friendship without forgiveness.” After this she linked that ordinary forgiveness God asks us each to the heroic forgiveness he asked her – forgiving the people who killed her parents out of racial hate.
She feels like God continues to lead her. She doesn’t go anywhere without a rosary and usually held it visibly in her hand throughout the talk.