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Journey from genocide to forgiveness

Immaculée shares her story of courage
Immaculée shares her story of courage.

By Amy Vierboom

The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is a black spot in the history of humanity. After many decades of ethnic tension between the Hutus and Tutsis, the death of the President of Rwanda on the morning of 6 April 1994 sparked what would amount to one of the most significant and horrifying cases of ethnic cleansing imaginable.

Immaculée Ilibagiza was one of the few Tutsis who survived. When Immaculée stepped into PJ Gallagher’s Irish Pub in Parramatta on a Monday night last month, few in the 700-plus crowd of university students and young professionals would have been prepared for the message she delivered.

Having grown up in a Catholic Tutsi family, with parents who were well respected community leaders and had surrounded their four children with love from birth, Immaculée never would have expected anything like the genocide was even possible.

A few days after the tensions erupted, Immaculée’s father sent her to a Hutu pastor, who was a family friend, to find shelter and escape the killing spree happening all around outside.

Immaculée recounted her experience of spending 91 days in a bathroom in the pastor’s house with seven other women. Amid the constant fear for her life, she found her strength in asking God for His protection in prayer.

Few can remember a night where the Theology on Tap crowd has been so transfixed on their speaker’s words, as Immaculée explained her struggle with the Lord’s Prayer, when coming to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Her heartfelt desire to truly forgive, by the gift of God’s grace, those who were committing the atrocities all around her is a remarkable witness of faith.

When Immaculée finally left the bathroom, she was to discover that her parents and two of her brothers had been murdered, along with many of her close friends and relatives.

Yet despite the pain and grief, her story is one of profound hope and ever-trusting faith. For a young crowd her message made clear the way God is truly with us, protecting us, loving us and waiting to encounter us wherever we are.  Her witness was one of a profound “yes” to the grace to forgive fellow man and share in the sufferings of Christ.

Through her work with the Left to Tell Charitable Fund, Immaculée is helping to rebuild her country. It is little wonder her book Left to Tell was a New York Times best-seller and why those in the pub that night who hadn’t read it left with a copy under their arm: her life experience is so unique and her response of love is so profound.

Next Theology on Tap on Monday 6 September 2010

Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta, will be the guest speaker at the next TOT. Starts 6.30pm at PJ Gallagher’s Irish Pub. 74 Church Street, Parramatta. TOT is for young adults 18-35. Details:

Your chance to win a pilgrimage to WYD 2011 Madrid

PJ Gallagher’s Irish Pubs have generously offered to fully sponsor one TOT attendee a World Youth Day Madrid 2011 Direct Pilgrimage Trip priced at $3,590.

To be in the running for this prize you must fill out a raffle ticket at a TOT event between the months of July-November 2010. Tickets are FREE! The winner will be announced at the November TOT event & must be present on the evening to receive the prize. Applicants must be within the TOT age range of 18-35 years old, as of 1 November 2010.

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