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Power to forgive overcomes a holocaust
Presidents, generals, global diplomats and think-tank thinkers generate complex formulas and torturous multistep plans to achieve peace.
Finding God amid cruelty
Immaculee Ilibagiza will speak next week on Oahu and Maui. All the talks are free.
» Tomorrow, 7 p.m., St. Anthony Church in Wailuku
» Monday, 6:30 p.m., Blaisdell Concert Hall. Na Leo Pilimehana will sing before her talk.
» Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., Blaisdell Concert Hall. The talk will be preceded by Na Leo Pilimehana.
» Thursday, 9 a.m., Our Lady of Peace Cathedral. She will speak at the Red Mass, an annual service to pray for state legislators and other government officials.
A woman who will speak in Honolulu next week does not claim to have the solution to strife and warfare around the globe. But people who heard Immaculee Ilibagiza speak here last year, and those who have read her story, believe she has the answer. In a word, it is "forgive."
Ilibagiza survived a holocaust of violence in her homeland, Rwanda, in 1994. Nearly 1 million people, including her parents and two brothers, were killed in a campaign of genocide against her ethnic group, the Tutsis.
She and seven other women hid for three months in a tiny bathroom of a local pastor's home. They stayed silent; they nearly starved; they lived in fear as they listened to screams of victims and shouted threats from murderous militia members sweeping through the village.
The young college student learned when she emerged that all her family had been brutally killed, except for a brother who was studying abroad.
When she met her mother's killer later, Ilibagiza told him, "I forgive you."
In her book "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust," she tells of how she overcame anger and resentment against the enemy through prayer in that cramped hide-out. She has told her story to international dignitaries and schoolchildren, to corporations and church groups, and in news media interviews since the book was published in 2006.
"She cried out to God, 'Give me forgiveness, or I will die of my hatred,'" said Suzanne Maurer. "He healed her. He washed away her bitterness."
Maurer, executive director of the Waterhouse Lecture Series, heard Ilibagiza speak in a Catholic church last year and mobilized an effort to bring her back for a wider audience. The lecture series, a Baptist program, has underwritten the cost of the talks, which are co-sponsored by the Honolulu Catholic diocese, Hawaii Family Forum and Chaminade University.
"Most of the places I go, I talk about forgiveness," said Ilibagiza in a telephone interview. She now lives in New York with her husband, a United Nations employee, and their two children. She has been recognized with awards including the 2007 Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace. Her book is included in the curriculum of several universities and high schools.
"I just want to tell my story, talking to people to let them know, don't give up hope," she said. "What I went through can accomplish a positive effect. Forget about what hurts you, because at the end we have the ability to forgive each other and to be happy.
"Genocide is the result of hatred, of seeing another person as less than you are. When you have differences ... you can talk to them, pray for them.
"When I talk to people who are leaders, who make decisions for the bigger number of people, I want them to understand what they do can hurt people and their children. Nothing can happen without the propaganda of the leaders of the country. For people to hate each other, to hate another tribe, it happens if the people who lead allow it."
Ilibagiza said her next book, "Led by Faith," to be published in September, "is about the journey after the genocide, how the whole country came back together, how people were healing."
She returns often to Rwanda, where the Left to Tell Foundation she created supports an orphanage.
"In my family we would pray together every night. I knelt before the cross with my mom and dad," Ilibagiza said. "I did not understand much then. Afterward, when I was in trouble, I started to pay attention. I don't know what would have happened to me if I didn't pray," she said, telling of focusing on the repetitious prayers of the rosary, using a string of prayer beads, "the last gift my dad gave me."
The Rev. Johnathan Hurrell of St. Michael Church in Waialua said the Rwandan survivor "puts a human face on what we read in the papers today. It continues in Darfur and elsewhere. We read it so many times, we get tired of reading it and wonder if there is any end.
"Here, there is an end that is a beginning," said Hurrell. "She found God in the absolute quagmire of cruelty, then let God shine through her to forgive those who killed her family.
"She is a witness to forgiveness. Her simple message is the core of the potential of human beings. We can occupy the same world although we are diverse and don't always agree."