PROVIDENCE — In a time where recent headlines depict the violence, prejudice and divisiveness throughout the country, Immaculée Ilibagiza’s personal account is a timely story to tell.
In a special presentation at McVinney Auditorium on Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m., sponsored by St. Patrick’s Academy, Ilibagiza will reflect on growing up in a country she loved, surrounded by her family she cherished, until her world was ripped apart as Rwanda descended into a genocide. But, hers is a triumphant story of a remarkable journey to forgiveness. After the genocide, Ilibagiza came face-to-face with the man who killed her mother and one of her brothers. After enduring months of physical, mental and spiritual suffering, she was still able to offer the unthinkable, telling the man, “I forgive you.”
Today, Ilibagiza is regarded as one of world’s leading speakers on faith, hope and forgiveness. She has shared this universal message with world leaders, school children, multinational corporations, churches, and at events and conferences around the world, including a recent presentation to over 200,000 people in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Her first book, “Left to Tell; Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust,” quickly became a New York Times Best Seller. She has also received honorary doctoral degrees from universities around the country. A major motion picture about her story is under production with an international release in theaters planned for 2019.
In an interview with Rhode Island Catholic, Ilibagiza shared that people always ask, “How did you come out of this? How did you keep your sanity?” Her answer is that she knows the peace that forgiveness offers and it was her faith that helped her to move forward from those horrifying years.
“Forgiveness is a beautiful blessing and I never thought it was going to be like that,” she said. “It was true freedom. I literally have had to throw myself into hands of God and pray with my whole heart. Through the rosary, I came to forgive. It was also about humility. I went on my knees and just begged God that if he thought it was possible to forgive to just help me.”
Ilibagiza reflected on the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, when late Oct. 1 a gunman perched in a room on the 32nd floor of a casino hotel unleashed a shower of bullets on the festival below, killing at least 59 people and wounding at least 527 others.
“There is hatred and division. It’s confusing because when we are looking for someone to blame for this it seems that we almost want to be divided to the point where we ignore the reality who is behind it — the devil. Evil blinds our judgement and takes away our capacity to discern the truth. We are afraid and want to protect ourselves from danger and through prayer, this fear will go away, we start to see each other as brothers and sisters, it is healing.”
When Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Church, first heard Ilibagiza’s message of hope and forgiveness he felt called to help bring her message to Rhode Island. Through the Academy’s discipleship club, Club 3107, and through a special endowment fund that supports initiatives of peace with help from NACEPF, her visit was made possible. Father Ruggieri explained that her presentation will inspire anyone whose life has been touched by fear, suffering and loss. He has also arranged for her to speak at a private engagement at St. Patrick Academy to students from five nearby Catholic schools.
“She is a great ambassador of peace and forgiveness,” he said. “We are hoping to fill the auditorium. We need to hear a message of reconciliation and peace and she is a woman who has endured that. Through her faith and her devotion to Mary she was able to forgive. Her faith in God sustained her.”
Ilibagiza does not grow weary of recounting the difficult details of her story, she said, and is excited to visit Rhode Island and share her message with the community.
“I hope people can learn from Rwanda, and more than anything hold on to their faith. My dad used to tell us, do not judge people and put them in boxes because you don’t know who God is going to send you when you need it most. In the end, everyone has their own journey and I want to do my best and live mine fully and see every day is a gift. I really want to remind people that faith is so important. If you believe in God please hold on to that.”
Tickets for the evening at McVinney Auditorium, 43 Dave Gavitt Way, are available at www.mcvinneyauditorium.com.