Anyone of the millions of readers of Immaculee Ilibagiza’s New York Times bestselling book, “Left to Tell” in which she relates the terrifying ordeal she endured, hiding in a tiny bathroom with 7 women, while the Rwandan genocide raged outside, is left with a burning question; where did she find the strength to endure those 90 days of torment? Her latest book, Our Lady of Kibeho is Immaculee’s answer to that question, as well as a personal account of the only Church- approved Marian apparition in Africa.
No one who knew Immaculee as little girl would have predicted her role in the genocide and its aftermath: Immaculee had an idyllic Catholic childhood. Raised in a picturesque village in the mountains of Rwanda, her devout parents, Rose and Leonard were teachers, and were widely respected. Immaculee’s earliest memory is of being rocked in her mother’s arms as she prayed the rosary. The young Immaculee lived a holy life of prayer, study and innocent play until at age 11, when she was confronted by a crisis of faith. Not wanting to burden her loving family with her questions, Immaculee suffered silently until the day her doubts were put to rest forever, when her teacher told her the story of Our Lady of Fatima.
The story of three shepherd children from Portugal visited by the Queen of Heaven captivated Immaculee’s imagination, and she convinced her friend Jeanette and her brother Fabrice to climb a local hilltop each day to tend their goats, where they prayed fervently for Our Lady to appear to them. Eventually the children grew discouraged and gave up their efforts, and were thrilled to hear, not a week later that Our Lady did appear to a young woman in Rwanda, in a convent school in a remote town named Kibeho.
The story of the apparitions of Our Lady at Kibeho has familiar elements to Catholics familiar with the stories of Lourdes and Fatima; simple children who receive the message, and are mocked at first by skeptical friends and authorities. Our Lady asks for increased prayer, conversion of hearts, and for a chapel to be built. But no other apparition gives such vivid detail of future tragedies to occur if the people do not repent. The prayerfully singing, rapturous crowd was abruptly silenced as the visionaries shrieked in horror at the visions of thousands of bodies hacked to death and rivers flowing with human blood revealed to them by a tearful Mother. All this is powerfully related to Immaculee by the tape recorder of her pastor, Fr. Rwagema.
The lives of Rwandans were deeply affected by the apparitions, with thousands of pilgrims, including Immaculee’s father Leonard, traveling for weeks on foot, sleeping outdoors with little food or water in order to pray, sing and learn from Alphonsine, Anathalie, Marie-Clare, and the other visionaries. A chapel of Our Lady was built and thousands learned to pray a special rosary commemorating the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. Immaculee describes how, although she was not able to travel to Kibeho until after the genocide, the visit of Our Lady steeled her for what lay ahead,
”Mary knew who her son was, and from his earliest days was aware of the pain that awaited him(and her). Yet through all those years, she supported him with the love of a mother, standing by him while he was whipped, beaten and crucified And she was there for him when he drew his last breath. I realized that Our Lady, whose soft and gentle voice enthralled the visionaries, has rock-solid strength. It was the rock upon which I would build my faith in God, the strength that would sustain me through whatever sorrows life held in store for me.” P 97
Immaculee didn’t realize until days before the genocide destroyed her village and wiped out most of her family that she and her people were being prepared for unimaginable suffering. In this she joins the exalted company of the saints, who though close friends of Our Lord, suffered the darkness of man’s inhumanity to man and entered into the Passion of Christ.
Buy it here.