By: Erica Lampert ~Staff Writer~
A Catholic woman named Immaculée Ilibagiza will share her story of genocide and survival with the Xavier community and surrounding areas for the Year of Mercy speaking event on Feb. 22.
For 91 harrowing days in 1994, Ilibagiza of the Tutsi people in Rwanda, Africa, hid in the bathroom of a minister’s house with seven other women to escape all but certain death. Ilibagiza had returned home from college to Rwanda on Easter Holiday when she heard the news that the president of her country died. Before she knew it, she was whisked away to her neighbor’s bathroom and told to hide there with seven other women and children.
“And I went to him. I was shaking. I told him ‘My father asked me to come here because things are getting really bad in our village,’” Ilibagiza said. “And he took me. He said, ‘Come, come.’”
The bathroom was a three-byfour foot room so small those in it had to take turns standing, or be killed the second they left the room.
“There was no eating. I prayed from the morning until 11 at night,” Ilibagiza said. “I remember sometimes we used to eat just like, beans. And there was this little insect that came out of the beans. And he brought it. It was ‘Jesus, well how am I going to eat it?’”
For days, she and the others listened in terror as the majority killers, Hutus, searched her village for any of the remaining minority group, Tutsis, and even entered the house the seven were hiding in.
“I never been so scared in my life. I remember it was like life swept out of your body in a second. I became dry instantly. I couldn’t even find saliva to swallow,” Ilibagiza said.
Ilibagiza soon learned that all of her family, including her extended family, had been killed by the Hutus during the genocide. Her father was shot while trying to get food for his neighbors’ children.
“I never conceived the world could end until I saw the genocide,” Ilibagiza said. “To have seen a million die in three months, to see people leaving, with nothing from their pasts, was incredible.”
The pastor who helped these women hide had left the bedroom radio on so they could hear the news. After three months of genocide, they heard that French troops had finally arrived in Rwanda to protect Tutsis survivors and that one French camp was just a few miles away. Ilibagiza persuaded the pastor to help them all escape to the camp.
“We stood up first of all, never really much standing up. I remember fixing my knees, like I couldn’t walk,” Ilibagiza said. “And when we reached the gate, I was like, ‘We are Tutsi, please help us,’” So he said, ‘Come in’ and we went in, and it was the first time in three months that we saw somebody have pity on us.”
After a hundred days, a Tutsi army formed in exile captured most of the country and stopped the genocide. Today, Tutsis are still in control and are sharing power with Hutus. The economy is coming back, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis have come back from exile, and the country hopes to attract tourists. Some Tutsis want revenge, however, as some Hutus want to start the genocide all over again.
“And I don’t want (hate). I don’t want them after killing my family to give me this luggage in my heart, in my belly, you know, to hold this anger,” Ilibagiza said.
Instead of anger and revenge, Ilibagiza main mission in life is to share her story in hopes to prevent future atrocities.
“You started to hear on radios, people denying that it wasn’t genocide. And that almost takes your breath away,” Ilibagiza said. “Like, what I have lived isn’t genocide? What is genocide? Every child, every woman, every man, Tutsi, at least in my village as I have seen, is dead.”
She has given several lectures and speeches around the world and has written a book titled “The Rosary — The Prayer That Saved My Life.” Now Ilibagiza is coming to the Xavier community to share her story. All students and community members are invited to attend and learn about how she overcame her struggles through the power of forgiveness and her rosary.
The event will be held from 7-9 p.m. on Feb. 22 in Cintas. Her book will also be on sale and available for signing after her presentation. For more information, students can contact Stephanie Renny (firstname.lastname@example.org) at (513) 745-3569.