Before the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which her entire family was murdered, Immaculée Ilibagiza, bestselling author of “Left To Tell” and host of EWTN’s new series “I Forgive with Immaculée Ilibagiza,” says that while she always held a rosary in her hands, she didn’t always pray it. However, during the months she spent stuffed in a small bathroom with many other women hiding from those who wanted to kill her, Immaculée said she prayed 27 rosaries a day, and never felt like she was repeating herself!
How can that be?
“I really spend time with the mysteries,” she says. “The Scourging at the Pillar. What happened exactly? How can these people do this? [Jesus] was innocent. The people who beat Him have their own free will. What were they thinking? The genocide especially took me there. The end result of every meditation [was]: He did this willingly for me. He left paradise for me. He could have changed everything [bad] that was happening to Him [but He didn’t]!”
As she prayed in that bathroom, Immaculée said the devil would put in her mind that maybe she was supposed to die. But she would tell herself that she didn’t know what sin she had committed to deserve this. Then, the devil would suggest that maybe it was her parents who had committed the sin.
But as she meditated on Jesus in his Passion as the Sorrowful Mysteries have us do, she came to understand: “He suffered. He died. [Yet] He was God. He was innocent. So I’m not bad! [She said to Jesus:] ‘When the world wanted to kill me, when the world was telling me I was not good enough, You died for me. I matter to You that much!’ Look at what Job went through. Being rejected can be a sign of love of God, giving humans an occasion of earning many graces.”
Immaculee says her time with the rosary is her time to talk to God about many things, including the pain of other people, which she links to the suffering of Jesus. For example, in praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, she might remember someone who is sick so she meditates again on the suffering of Jesus and says: “You were suffering so much. Please give us strength. Please remember that person.”
Meditating on the rosary helped Immaculée let go of her anger long before she was released from her bathroom prison. After praying the rosary like this, she says she always felt so good, even when nothing had changed on the outside.
“Even now, it’s easy to look at the world, to listen to TV, and to start to feel you are nothing. [But] you are a child of God, created by God. Don’t let another person to put you down. You’re supposed to love. If you’re convinced you are not good enough, how can you help another person?”
And if we can’t help others, we can’t fulfil our purpose as Immaculee explained so eloquently in Part 1 of this series, https://bit.ly/45bGh4Z. (Note: If you like what Immaculee says here, don’t miss EWTN’s newest series, “I Forgive With Immaculee Ilibagiza,” which airs at 11:30 p.m. ET, Sundays, with encores at 6:30 p.m. ET, Tuesdays.)
But the rosary is not just a meditation about the pain of the Sorrowful Mysteries; it’s also a meditation on the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries. Immaculee says she goes before Our Lady and then says to her Son: “’You were born in Our Lady’s womb to care for me. Please take care of my heart, my family. Help me share your joy. Thank You for being here.’ Sometimes I’m on one mystery for 30 minutes. I say: ‘I can’t believe what You did for my life, how you saved me. You gave me family, children, friends, EWTN. You make everything happen. I have so much to be grateful about.’”
While praying the rosary helped Immaculee let go of her anger, she admits it was a process. She had been best friends with people from the other Rwandan tribe, the people who were now trying to kill her and her people. But praying the rosary helped her realize that not everyone on the other side was evil.
“When you hate another group, you are hating children who are not even born yet,” she said. She came to see: “It’s a small number who are killing. Pray and forgive. Then, I was ashamed of my anger. [You pray the rosary], to gain the wisdom to know how to behave when you are forgiving. The person is still wrong. They have to work their journey too.”
She was still in hiding when she made the decision to forgive, but the rosary helped her to look upon the killers simply as “mad people.”
“I prayed for them, for this anger, this sin, this evil to go away. I prayed for them to acknowledge the pain they caused. I prayed for the people who would be their victims, for their protection. Pray for your enemies. When you do that, you are weakening the power of the devil over their life. In the end, maybe they will seek God.”
Immaculee notes that when someone repents of the evil they have done, it is “not a fun day.” She says: “If I remember I have said something unkind about somebody, I don’t sleep. If I can’t sleep about that, imagine someone who has taken someone’s life. I go to confession and then I feel better.”
The rosary also taught Immaculee to really trust God, something she needed when the genocide ended and she was left with nothing – no parents, no money, and no clothes but the ones on her back. The devil would tempt her. But thanks to the rosary, she would triumph. But that – and much more – is a story for Part 3 of this “Inside EWTN” series.