It is strange, through history, how evil periodically goes "viral" -- how, like a highly contagious germ, it can suddenly pervade a society (even those who seemed good).

A cloud descends. A curtain drops. The lights go out. It was seen in the horrors of Babylonian and Roman persecutions and in Nazi Germany and in Cambodia and Ukraine under the Communists and most recently in Rwanda, where the most intense genocide in history occurred in 1994. To read about this epidemic of darkness is to delve into a completely riveting story that defies normal human understanding. In less than a year, up to a million were left dead.

In house after house, village after village, town after town, tribal Tutsis were butchered without mercy by rival Hutus who dismembered and decapitated them with machetes in the most sadistic massacre with which modern history is familiar. In many cases, Hutus turned on Tutsis who were friends and neighbors and virtually indistinguishable from them -- sharing the same culture, religions, and many genetic traits. It wasn't even a clear ethnic dispute -- just an outbreak of the unthinkable.

Corpses lined the roads of Rwanda to the point where many expected the Hutus to kill every last Tutsi. The killers -- former childhood friends or schoolteachers and town officials who were now simply part of a killing mob -- wielded spears and guns and machetes and chanted, "Kill them, kill them, kill them all; kill them big and kill them small; kill the old and kill the young; a baby snake is still a snake; kill it too; let none escape; kill them, kill them, kill them all!" Some dressed like demons, wearing tree-bark skirts and goat horns strapped to their heads.

That a devout Catholic woman  named Immaculée Ilibagiza (now of New York) survived this atrocity is a modern miracle -- the result of a tremendous, supernormal closeness to God developed as she hid with five and sometimes seven other females for three months in a tiny bathroom as marauding Hutus relentlessly searched for her, having slaughtered her family -- including an dear older brother she idolized as a best friend and soul mate  [above, left]  and whose skull she would later see, along with his mutilated body.

Immaculée survived through the power of devotion that rarely wavered as she prayed up to twenty hours a day -- developing a unique, intense love for the Lord, Who intervened a number of times to pull her out of close brushes with slaughter (at times seemingly making her invisible). "I realized that my battle to survive this war would have to be fought inside of me," she has written. "Everything strong and good in me -- my faith, hope, and courage -- was vulnerable to the dark energy. If I lost my faith, I knew that I wouldn't be able to survive. I could rely only on God to help me fight."

It's a dramatic account that was told in her 2006 bestseller Left To Tell (which has gone through 23 printings) -- a book that will amaze and inspire you, if you haven't read it; a book you will pass around to believers and secularists alike, Catholics, Protestants, Jews; even agnostics. Rarely has there been such a powerful tool for conversion. Equally fascinating is the fact that before the genocide, Immaculée's father, who was an extremely devout man, had taken her to the reported apparitions several hours away at Kibeho because she had held a close attachment to the Blessed Mother since she was a very young girl -- and in fact prayed for Mary to come to Rwanda (which she did -- at Kibeho! -- three weeks after).

How Heaven weaves things! It was at Kibeho -- a Church-approved apparition -- that the genocide was beyond doubt predicted (in detailed visions reported before the "viral" outbreak).

What a story this is. How Immaculée sparkles.

Her major lesson?

This had to be forgiveness and faith.

While in hiding at a pastor's house -- often with Hutus literally inches away, on the other side of a plaster wall (the door to the three-by-four bathroom was shielded by a chest) -- killers searched the property and even dug into a dung heap and crawled into the ceiling looking for her, as they also stuck machetes into suitcases to make sure there weren't any Tutsi babies hidden in them.

Yet Immaculée seemed oddly protected. She found a small corner in her heart where she could go and be alone with God -- even though she and the others were literally crawling over each other. The young African woman had resolved to pray every waking moment, and her first prayer was always thanking God that the pastor's house had been built and designed with that extra, hidden bathroom. After those warm-up prayers of thanks, she prayed the Rosary for hours -- with such intensity that at times she broke into a sweat. The Rosary beads she used had been given to her by her father. 

After, she would meditate on Scripture (especially what it said about faith and moving mountains).

As Immaculée meditated, she touched the source of her faith. Once inside that secret place -- her "sacred garden" -- she prayed in silence but mouthed each prayer -- meditating for hours on the meaning of single words like forgiveness, faith, and hope. She spent days on the word surrender. It was a wonderful nurturing of her closeness to the Lord.

One night she heard a scream near the house and then a baby crying. The killers obviously killed the mother and left the baby for the dogs, who she could hear snarling.

All the while -- relentlessly -- the devil tried to speak to her:

"Don't call on God. He knows that you're a liar. Why are you calling on Him? Look at all of them out there... hundreds of them looking for you. They are legion, and you are one. You can't possibly survive -- you won't survive. They're inside the house, and they're moving through the rooms. They're close, almost here... they're going to find you, rape you, cut you, kill you!"

But the Lord was also there, and He began to speak to Immaculée in dreams as well as experiences in more of a waking state during which she seemed to transcend her body. As she recounts in one case:

"I drifted off to sleep shortly before dawn and had the most intense dream of my life. I saw Jesus standing in front of me, His arms outstretched as though He were about to embrace me. He was wearing a piece of cloth wrapped about His waist, and His long hair spilled down around His shoulders. I remember being struck by how thin He looked. His ribs protruded, and His cheeks were lean and hollow. Yet His eyes sparkled like stars when He looked at me, and His voice was as soft as a gentle breeze.

"When you leave this room, you will find that almost everyone you know and love is dead and gone," He told Immaculée -- correctly, as it happens. "I am here to tell you not to fear. You will not be alone -- I will be with you. I will be your family. Be at peace and trust in Me, for I will always be at your side. Don't mourn too long for your family, Immaculée. They are with Me now, and they have joy."

Anyone reading the details of how close she came to death -- and how many times -- is left with no option but to see His Hand in it.

She was meant to tell the story.

She was meant to recount how rapid and rabid evil can spread (heed this, modern world).

The devil seemed able to eavesdrop on her thoughts. But through prayer she blocked out his interference.

At one such point, "I felt faint," she wrote. "Consciousness slipped away from me until the killers' thundering voices were only a soft, distant rumble. Then I was sleeping... and dreaming a sweet dream of Jesus.

"I floated like a feather above the other women. I saw them trembling below me on the floor, holding their Bibles on their heads, begging God for mercy. I looked up and saw Jesus hovering above me in a pool of golden light, and His arms were reaching toward me. I smiled, and the constant aches and pains that had become part of my body after weeks of crouching disappeared. There was no hunger, no thirst, and no fear -- I was so peaceful... so happy.

"Then Jesus spoke: 'Mountains are moved with faith, Immaculée, but if faith were easy, all the mountains would be gone. Trust in Me, and know that I will never leave you. Trust in Me, and have no more fear. Trust in Me, and I will save you. I shall put My cross upon the door, and they will not reach you. Trust in Me, and you shall live."

She did -- and against all odds; no Hutu ever did find the bathroom (despite repeated searches of the house by dozens of killers). It was the Lord Who first inspired the pastor to move the chest in front of the door, Immaculée felt, and she had a vision of a giant Cross in brilliant white light stretching wall to wall in front of that bathroom, which warmed her face like the sun.

"I knew that we were protected and safe, so I jumped to my feet, feeling like I had the strength of a lioness," she writes. "I thanked God for touching me with His Love."

So profound was her closeness to God in the secret place that the time spent in the tiny bathroom where there was hardly enough room to stand or sit became a time she would later long for! The brutality -- and transcendence -- of this book are breathtaking (and for many, life-altering). She now describes the bathroom as "a blessing for which I'd be forever thankful." For she had become "the loving daughter of God, my Father."

After the ordeal Immaculée was to learn that her father had been shot on the steps of a government office (where he'd sought help for refugees), and her mother had been dragged to the side of a road and hacked to death.  Damascene's limbs had been severed and then his head split open by a killer who was jealous of his college education and wanted "to see what the brain of someone with a master's degree looks like." Yet later -- face to face with the man who killed her beloved brother Damascene as well as her mother -- and who had sought to butcher her, but who now was captured and imprisoned by Tutsi forces -- Immaculée said only to him, "I forgive you."

On the spot, she forgave the killers!

Her willingness to do that shocked one official. "What was that all about, Immaculée?" he scolded her. "That was the man who murdered your family. I brought him to you to question... to spit on if you wanted to. But you forgave him! How could you do that? Why did you forgive him?"

"I answered him with the truth," she writes, recounting that she had replied, "Forgiveness is all that I have to offer."

[resources: Left To Tell and Our Lady of Kibeho]

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