NEW ULM - The pews in St. Mary's Church were packed Friday night to hear Immaculee Ilibagiza tell her inspiring story of faith during one of the worst episodes of the 20th century.
Ilibagiza is a native of Rwanda and a survivor of the genocide that occurred there in 1994.
Following the assassination of the Hutu president, Tutsis were massacred in retaliation. Ilibagiza had just returned home for the University when the killings started. Before the conflict was brought to an end, a million people from Tutsi tribes had been murdered. Immaculee's parents convinced her to flee and she soon found protection in the house of a pastor. For 91 days she and seven other women hid in a three-by-four foot bathroom, all the while fearing they would be discovered.
Staff photo by Clay Schuldt
Chris Heiderscheidt (left) and Kris Anderson (right) present Immaculee Ilibagiza (center) with a check for the Kibeho Dormitory Project. Half the amount was raised through donations from the New Ulm Diocese Council of Catholic Women and the remaining half from an anonymous donor.
During the three months spent in hiding, Ilibagiza turned to prayer. Every day she would pray the rosary, but admitted she had trouble with a specific section. The prayers she was taught commanded her to forgive those who trespassed against her, but Ilibagiza admitted she could not do that. "How do you do that? How can you say that prayer without lying to God?"
The answer came to her one day when she realized that she had been protected from the massacre. "If God can protect me in a bathroom, he can help me forgive."
After the genocide Immaculee learned that most of her family had been killed. However, when she had an opportunity to face the man who killed her mother and one of her brothers, she chose to forgive him saying, " we all do things that seem right at the time, but even a killer has a chance to change."
Ilibagiza wrote a book on her experience, "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust" and was available to sign copies after her speech.
Ilibagiza's visit to New Ulm was sponsored by the Province of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The New Ulm Diocese Council of Catholic Women presented Ilibagiza with a $43,000 check for the Kibeho Dormitory Project. The dormitory will serve as a residence for teachers of a school in Kibeho, Rwanda. This donation was part the diocesan board's service project, which began raising funds last June. The 76 parishes in the New Ulm Diocese raised nearly $25,000 which was matched by an anonymous donor.
Ilibagiza was grateful for the donation and encouraged everyone to visit the Our Lady of Kibeho in Rwanda. Ilibagiza intends to return to her home country in August.
Ilibagiza closed her talk reminding her audience of the power of forgiveness, saying, "If I can forgive, anyone can forgive."