Immaculée Ilibagiza speaks at the “Miracle in Rwanda” event April 7, 2019, in New York City, on the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. (Photo by Walter McBride/Getty Images)
“Pray together, especially the Rosary, and go to Mass. Even when you feel tired, such as at the end of a busy week, do it.”
As an avid reader, I easily count Immaculée Ilibagiza’s internationally bestselling book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (2006) within the top 10 most influential books in my life of faith. As such, having the opportunity to speak with Immaculée about her various ministerial endeavors was one of the most rewarding interviews that I have experienced.
Reflecting on Immaculée’s testimony about her unimaginable ordeal during the Rwandan Genocide, which occurred 25 years ago as of this April 6, is reliably sobering. (You may also want to read my April 6 Register piece “25 Years After the Genocide, Divine Mercy Flows in Rwanda.” For that contribution, I got to speak with Heidi Hess Saxton about the book Forgiveness Makes You Free: A Dramatic Story of Healing and Reconciliation from the Heart of Rwanda, to which Heidi contributed with Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga, another survivor of the Rwandan Genocide and friend of Immaculée, who wrote the foreword to their book.)
During this interview, I was particularly impressed by Immaculée’s immense humility in the midst of what she has undergone, and inspirational practicality regarding the spiritual life. I appreciate Immaculée having taken the time to speak to me for this interview, and likewise thank her staff member David Steffen for arranging it. May you be edified by Immaculée’s wisdom and Christian zeal in the interview transcript that follows. After reading through the transcript, please be sure to visit www.immaculee.com, and consider going on one of Immaculée’s pilgrimages and/or reading her numerous books.
1) Why would you recommend that Catholics take a pilgrimage, perhaps especially to Rwanda?
I would recommend, of course, to come to Rwanda, because it is really good to introduce people to something that they have not seen. In Rwanda, what happened was in my lifetime, when I was younger. Our Lady tells her children to please come on this “holy journey.” Our Lady wants us to come willingly. The more effort that you make to go there, the better. The Marian apparitions at Kibeho have been approved by the Vatican. It is a privilege to do as Our Lady wants us to do.
One of the things that I love is the experience of people when they go on a pilgrimage. This weekend, I was in Virginia on a trip, and one of the people who had gone on a pilgrimage emphasized that it was a pilgrimage, and not a tour. You are there to pray. Another woman said that she has visited many people in the world and taken tours, but this is a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages are life-changing, spiritually. Our Lady wants us to come to Kibeho and make trips in her name, for our Mother, and she remembers those trips. So, I encourage people to come with all my heart and strength. On those spots, heaven has touched earth, and so many blessings occur on that holy ground. So, that gives me a lot of encouragement.
2) What advice do you have for Catholic parents seeking to raise their children to follow Christ, and have an authentic marriage and family life?
That’s a very good question, and that is my prayer for all of us. I think that one of the things is that Catholic families must raise our children in a Catholic culture. We must be leaders and protectors for our children, to be an authority. If you are a teacher, you have something to teach your children, your students. It starts at home. God will ask us how we have done with our children. How have we taught them well? If he has given us the responsibility to be their guardians, we must teach them as good teachers.
I encourage Catholic parents to have a strategy: know your children. When my children were small, I started with the Bible. I had them repeat after me, and clap hands and recite the Hail Mary, and so forth. Then, I started to use religious customs, and that is something that pulled them in. Kids are watching everything. I have the responsibility to protect my kids from what they see and what they do. We have to teach them good manners. Show them good Catholic movies that they can learn from – watch the amazing images passing in front of you.
I remember one time, when my daughter was four, she said, “Mommy, do you want me to be nice, like Sister Faustina?” And my son said, “I want to be like Saint Francis!” They will be created by what you expose them to. I want to encourage everyone, especially Catholic families, to sit together and pray the family Rosary. Our Lady has said this everywhere she has appeared. Our Lady wants to watch over us, to intercede for us. Children have so many troubles going on, so if you do not include them, you are leaving them behind.
Pray together, especially the Rosary, and go to Mass. Even when you feel tired, such as at the end of a busy week, do it.
3) Do you have a favorite scriptural passage?
Thank you, thank you. One passage that encourages me, and I can laugh about it, is the parable about the man who asked for bread at midnight [Luke 11:5-8]. If the rich man does not give bread to the poor out of kindness, he can be won over by perseverance. “Knock, and the door will be opened to you” [Matthew 7:7]. Jesus wants to show us how to persist. Keep knocking! That is one of the things that I think causes people to become disheartened. Our blessings come from God, and we have to do things in a proper way. So, that is really something that, if I am really discouraged, or praying for a break, Jesus wants us to knock.
I love also, in that regard, to trust and have the faith so that mountains can move [cf. Matthew 17:20]. With my story, it was so hard for me to live in that bathroom for three months. If you have trust to move mountains, why be scared? You cannot trust God if you let the enemy into your heart. Let God into your heart. I also love Daniel in the lion’s den [Daniel 6:2-29]. We have nothing to fear. Even if you are surrounded by killers, in the hands of the enemy, you must make sure that your heart is clean. Speak the truth. Make sure that you are faithful to God. Be faithful to yourself only if you know who leads you, to whom you are trying to be faithful. Believing is scary sometimes. You might lose friends, people who like you. But, have no fear, because God is there.
4) What hope do you have for the future of the Church?
The hope that I have for the future of the Church is that we have so much light in our Church. We might place so much trust in politicians, but in the Church, we have clarity. Pray the Rosary. Look at how Our Lady wants to lead us to her Son. This is supernatural. Look at the Miracle of the Sun with Our Lady of Fátima. In our Church, we have clarity. You cannot change a group of people without changing hearts. I speak, and I write, and we need to speak to individuals. Things might get hard, but all that we have to worry about is living with God in the moment. Bring that into your home.
I really love our Catholic faith. Practice what Our Lady has told us in Rwanda. Just pray for more faith, from the heart. Be honest and sincere in what you are saying. I want to encourage priests in a special way to be the best priest that you can be, in terms of being faithful. Be faithful. It is as simple as that. How am I living right now – how am I faithful, as a wife, as a Catholic? People can change. I changed when I underwent my experience, and I grew. Anybody can change. I want people to make more responsibility to be good Christians, good Catholics.
5) Do you have any closing remarks for our readers?
As someone who has gone through terrible suffering, we all go through difficult times. Suffering is a part of life. If you are reading this, remember: keep going. Do not give up. Go toward the light of Christ.