By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published December 1, 2016
NEWNAN—Immaculee Ilibagiza, Rwandan genocide survivor, shared her story of faith the weekend of Oct. 28-29 at St. George Church in Newnan.
More than 150 people from across the archdiocese attended the Treasures of Our Faith Retreat, hosted by Mary Our Mother Foundation.
During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the Hutu targeted Ilibagiza’s tribe, killing an estimated 1 million, mostly Tutsi. One brother survived, but the rest of her family was murdered.
Ilibagiza survived by hiding in a local pastor’s bathroom for 91 days with seven other women. The women had little to eat and Ilibagiza spent much time in prayer.
“I said the rosary so many times and I felt Mary protecting us the entire time,” she said.
Father Henry Atem, pastor of St. George, said Ilibagiza’s testimony about the power of prayer and forgiveness was deeply moving.
“She reminded me of how fragile life is and how easy we can turn against each other if we fail to see each other as a brother or sister,” said Father Atem. “The fact that the people who killed her family were neighbors she knew means that for there to be true and lasting peace, we have to rise above the demarcations of us versus them. From her story, you can tell they were neighbors simply by proximity but not in their hearts.”
Father Atem was amazed that constant prayer helped her forgive and not have anger at her loss.
“I am very sure most of the participants left with the same amazement,” he said.
Joining Ilibagiza at the retreat were Colleen Willard and Valentine Nyiramukiza.
Willard discussed her struggle and victory over cancer. Diagnosed with a brain cancer that spread throughout her body, Willard had only weeks to live. On a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, she was healed after receiving holy Communion. She is now an advocate for the healing power of Marian devotion accompanied by a Eucharistic piety.
Nyiramukiza, a visionary from Kibeho, Rwanda, recounted what she described as an apparition of the Blessed Mother to her and several children in which Mary warned of impending genocide if the nation did not return to God in prayer.
St. George parishioner Debby Dye was inspired by the devotion of attendees to Mary.
“It was beautiful when everyone proceeded to the altar to place flowers and show their love of Mary,” said Dye.
Lynne Davis, a parishioner of St. Ann Church in Marietta, attended. She had long been interested in the reasons the genocide occurred and read Ilibagiza’s books.
“This was the first time I had seen her speak and found truth in her talk,” said Davis. “In a world where truth is valued less and less, where divisiveness abounds and so many people turn away from God, I fear we have not learned the lessons of Rwanda yet as told by Immaculee.”
St. George parishioner Jim Cormier said Ilibagiza provided a fantastic testimony.
“I think it was just powerful … her experience and what she went through. She’s just got an aura. She’s got so much energy,” said Cormier.
He took away an important message.
“There’s nothing to fear. Don’t waste time,” he said.
For more information on the ministry of Immaculee Ilibagiza, which includes support of Rwandan orphans, visit her website www.immaculee.com.