This weekend, I had the awesome opportunity to attend a retreat weekend with Immaculee'.
That's me in the back with Immaculee and my wonderful sister-in-law. (I hate pictures of myself ;-)) Here's a better one that SIL took with her iPhone.
I first heard of Immaculee a couple of years ago, when a friend of mine was going on a retreat with her. She explained that she was the woman that hid in a bathroom with 7 other women for 3 months in Rwanda and survived the genocide in 1994 when a million people were killed. Last summer I checked her first book out of the library (Left to Tell). It is a book that will leave a lasting impression on you! Then, around Christmas this past year, I heard that she was coming to my hometown to speak at a conference this spring. I was SO there. She had one brother who survived the genocide because he was out of the country. Two brothers, both parents, extended family, and friends were killed. But her message is one of forgiveness and mercy. Just amazing!
At the conference here in the spring, where we were able to listen to her for about an hour or so, she announced that she would be back in our state in June for a retreat! I knew I had to be there! Isn't she beautiful? Doesn't she glow with an inner joy? Instead of bitterness and hatred?
There was a lot that happened this weekend. I imagine it will take some time to process it. But I will share as best I can at this point. I didn't really know what to expect going in, and I tried to open to whatever was there and surrender to what God wanted to tell me.
The first evening, she shared her story with us. That was followed by a Mass and a healing service conducted by Father Ubald. Father is also a genocide survivor. The healing service was a first for me. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed, and then slowly processed around the room that we were gathered in while we sang "Jesus". (Only say the word, and I shall be healed.... the word is Jesus.) I started the evening praying for others in my life that need healing. I don't have any pressing health needs, and I'm doing pretty OK. But as I knelt there, I could see the things in my life that need healing. The attitudes. The thoughts.
After the procession, Father sat for a little while and then began to name the things that Jesus had healed. He speaks French, so Immaculee translated for him. And then people were invited to give testimony if they had been healed or thought it might be them. It was a new experience for me. It was late when we finished. Before we left, Immaculee asked us to bring a flower for Our Blessed Mother.
So we stopped at Winn Dixie on the way the next morning. We offered our flowers to Mary.
Our Lady of Kibeho
Immaculee spoke about Our Mother and how she leads us to her son. She spoke of love and of how it is better to build up one another. Instead of praying that a pesky co-worker gets fired, pray that he or she finds a better job. That way both of you get something good!
Her faith is so powerful. She spent her time in the bathroom praying a rosary that her father had given her before sending her off to hide. 27 Rosaries a day for 90 days. You do the math.
But those seeds were planted long before she ended up in the bathroom. Her parents had a devotion to the Blessed Mother and a strong belief in the power of the Rosary. Our Lady had appeared to school girls in a small village (Kibeho) in Africa about 12 years before the genocide, and warned of the genocide if people did not change their hearts.
One of the things that Mary asked was that the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows be prayed. It is a devotion that was popular in the Middle Ages, but had fallen out of favor.
There are seven medals depicting the 7 Sorrows of Our Lady's life and then 7 Hail Mary's between each. Seven groups of seven. This particular Rosary was made in Rwanda by workers who are paid a "living wage" so that they can live with dignity.
When I was in fourth grade, Sister Agnes told us that we would go straight to hell if we dared to put a Rosary over our heads and wear it as a necklace. Apparently that rule has been changed, because that was where you mostly saw them this weekend. If the gang banger wannabe's can wear them to school, I think I might try it, too!
There was a local priest there who spent many hours yesterday (and a little while today) hearing confessions over in the corner. This is the confession line sitting across the front of the stage during a break. It is always wonderful to see people take advantage of this sacrament.
In the afternoon, Father Ubald told his story. (And he IS bald!) Another priest to pray for! We fell in love with him. He told how the Rosary brought him back to his faith, even as a seminarian. His English is limited, so we would speak and Immaculee would translate. He returned to Rwanda after the genocide and has worked in trying to help people heal and reconcile. He is building a center where people can come and also including housing for retired priests - who can continue to minister to the extent that they are able to those who are in need of healing and reconciliation. He has the gift of healing, but he seemed to stress the physical healing that often accompanies forgiveness.
The testimonies after the healing service of the ways that Jesus is working in people's lives were particularly moving Saturday night. Parents who had lost children. Spouses who had forgiven spouses and been healed from physical ailments in the process. Very emotional.
This little girl belonged to one of the musicians who was there this weekend. Adopted from China, she was just precious. She just embodied the innocence of childhood. Here she is making herself very comfortable on stage!
One of the ladies giving testimony on Saturday evening had remembered that Sunday was Father's day and on her lunch break had bought Father a beautiful Father's Day gift. On the side of the boat there was the scripture verse about being fishers of men and she thanked him for putting us all in his net and dragging us in and thanked him for pulling in all of the retired priests in the center he is trying to build. He was moved to tears. (And so were most of the rest of us.) He placed the gift next to the Blessed Sacrament.
And what were the messages that I got this weekend? I went not really knowing what to expect, but just trying to be open to whatever might present itself.
I learned that Immaculee was indeed left to tell, but it was not necessarily the story of her survival that she was left to tell. Quite possibly, it was the story of Our Lady of Kibeho that she was left to tell. She sympathized with us about the suffering that has gone on in our area. First Katrina, and now the oil spill and moratorium. We, also, are left to tell the story of God's goodness and faithfulness and almighty power with our lives. More than anything, God is about love.
I know that I need to pray with my family. That was a pretty clear message. We should pray with our children when they are young, so that they are not easy prey for the devil when they get older. I need to pray the Rosary. It is such a powerful weapon, but something I have never developed an affection for. I have always felt like I could go straight to Jesus. Why stop and talk to His mom along the way? But my sister-in-law pointed out that John Paul II had quite a devotion to Mary, and surely he could have gone straight to Jesus. Maybe we would do well to imitate that.
I'm the wife of one ancient man and the mom of two teen beings with Y chromosomes.
I teach middle school special ed, and I'm slightly "touched".
I've always been Catholic, but in recent years my faith has become much more important in my life. Now I'm a "Happy Catholic."