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By Michael H. Brown

[Second in a series of reports]

She has written an internationally-acclaimed book. She speaks around the world. She's been on shows like 60 Minutes. She is now a force behind establishing the apparition site of Kibeho in Africa, which has been fully approved by the Church and drew approbation not only from the local bishop but in concert with other bishops in the country in a declaration that was issued at the Vatican itself.

Her name is Immaculée Ilibagiza, she's from Rwanda (now lives in New York City), and she became famous for surviving the holocaust in her homeland, a holocaust that took the lives of between 800,000 and one million, including most of her immediate family.

Many know her story -- and how, incredibly, she forgave those who killed her loved ones, even embracing one in public (who murdered her cousins).

Fewer know that Immaculéehas been a devotee of the Blessed Mother since she was a very young girl, that she attributes Divine intervention for saving her and six others who hid for 91 days from machete-wielding killers in a tiny, three-by-four-foot bathroom, and that a key reason for her stunning ability to forgive came from a series of remarkable dreams in which her slain relatives seem to have spoken with her from the other side.

She related this to me last week as we journeyed from a stay at the apparition site (about which there will be more next week).

Indeed, Immaculée lost her parents, two brothers, her grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, friends, and classmates in the "war."

For endless, nail-biting days, she and the others listened in stark terror as killers searched her village for remaining Tutsis and even entered the house in which they were hiding, missing them by God's grace. To give an example of the horror, above right and below is a church within walking distance of Kibeho where a priest celebrating Mass gave Tutsis general absolution and last rites, explaining that they were all going to die but should have courage; they were headed for Heaven. Five thousand who sought refuge in that church were then killed as Hutus lobbed grenades inside and shot or beheaded them as they fled the building. Outside, another ten thousand were slaughtered, their bones protruding, until recently, from spots in the landscape.

As for Immaculeé, day in and day out, light or dark, just outside the window -- at times, just feet beyond the thin walls that shielded them -- were the sounds of murder.

And every day -- perhaps every hour -- the women wondered how they would meet their end; one of them begged the minister, who was a Hutu, but had hidden them out of Christian kindness, to throw dirt on her corpse if they were next so the dogs -- which were consuming the strewn corpses -- would not tear into hers.

It was so terrifying that often while the women hid their mouths dried and there was no saliva to swallow -- terrifying but for prayer: Immaculée recited 27 rosaries and forty Divine-Mercy chaplets a day -- praying every waking moment.

As it turns out, since childhood, Immaculéehas had a remarkable affinity for God -- from the very start, her mother had recited the Rosary while rocking her in her arms as a baby; as a girl of five, while others played, Immaculéeand a friend prayed the Lord's Prayer in the middle of a dirt road; her little bedroom was a personal sanctuary with a Bible, rosary, and statuette of the Virgin on a table next to her bed.

Where most kids dragged their heals to church, Immaculéeloved going and sought to sit closest to the priest. It was said (in jest) that her first words were not "mommy" or "daddy" but "Hail Mary" -- in the heart of the Dark Continent! Credit the courageous missionaries who brought Catholicism here.

When she learned about Fatima, Immaculéebegan to pray for Mary to visit her village. She and a friend even devised a plan whereby they placed flowers in a circle to attract the Virgin to a hillside.

On November 28, 1981 -- three weeks after they quit trying to entice the Blessed Mother -- word came that Mary was appearing at a remote place three hours to the north, a school in an all but unknown and dirt poor mountain hamlet called Kibeho -- a place of apparition that much to my surprise I found to be as powerful as more famous sites like Medjugorje (which Immaculéehas now visited several times and which began five months before Kibeho). "Mary did hear our prayers," says Immaculeé. "We just weren't on the mountaintop when she arrived in Rwanda."

Before the African apparition could become well-known, however, a violent war erupted between the Hutus and Tutsis, with the more numerous Hutus intent on exterminating the Tutsis, who once were friends and neighbors. In fact, Immaculéeand others knew some of those who killed their loved ones!

While hiding in that bathroom, she heard her name called out; they were searching to behead her also. From the hideout (in a minister's home), they could heard the sounds of mass murder. And when they eventually emerged, saved by the French, eighty percent of Tutsis were dead.

Incredibly, Immaculée(who invited me to accompany her back to Rwanda) bore no hatred or bitterness [see our previous story]. Last week, she took time out to speak in front of a pilgrim group with that one former neighbor who murdered her cousins. She embraces and hugs them. She is a very unusual person, with an aura that is radiant.

That, perhaps, is because she is touched by the supernatural. Along with speaking about the genocide, Immaculeé's mission is promoting Kibeho. She wrote a bestseller called Left to Tell and also Our Lady of Kibeho. She has written a new book, A Visit From Heaven, on the last apparition to one of the main seers.

As we rode on a dirt road from Kibeho to Kigali last week, Immaculéerevealed that after their murders, her parents and especially her older brother [right] -- to whom she was specially attached -- appeared to her in unusually lucid dreams, the type that often are known as "visitation dreams."

"He came just about every day after the genocide," she told me, "and then every two weeks, then once a month or every two months or so. First, he came to assure me he wasn't dead. 'We're alive,' he said. 'Don't be sad. Don't be like that.' When I said, 'Oh, you really didn't die?' he said he would always be with me, and when he came, I would wake up happy with joy in my heart.

"He showed me how he died, like pictures. He said it lasted for just a few minutes. At first, he seemed like he was in a place in a forest of burned-out trees -- maybe purgatory -- but then months later he came in a dream -- as vivid as I see you -- and that night I saw him in the sky in front of our whole family. It was as if they were taking a family picture and the light there was like transparent diamonds. It was so bright and nice, where they were. He had on a white, white shirt, and my mother was in white, and it was like the sky funneled to her feet. 'I wanted to show you where we are,' he said. 'Do you really want us to come back to where you are?'

"It was so beautiful where my family was that I screamed, 'No, no! Stay there. Never come back! You are so happy.'"

Immaculée then burst into such a loud song -- in her sleep, a song praising God at two a.m. -- that it woke her landlord.

She also saw dreams in which Jesus and Mary appeared (the Blessed Mother in a way that reminded her of Kibeho).

It was her brother who spoke about forgiveness -- and inspired her. "The dreams of him no doubt healed me," she says. "The experiences healed. He said, 'Now let me go back. I am with you. Don't worry.'"

Next week: what a Church-approved Kibeho seer says about the future of the world]

[resources: Our Lady of Kibeho and A Visit From Heaven; also: Immaculeé's website]

[Resources: Announcing Michael Brown retreat in Louisiana]

[See to: Shrines rise at mysterious African apparition site and 60 Minutes clip]

[Mary Our Mother Foundation]

[Further note: Kibeho is explained in the 1992 book The Final Hour and also Kibeho by Father Gabriel Maindron in 1996 (forward by M. Brown); see also The Day Will Come].

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