In 1994, Immaculée Ilibagiza spent three months hiding in a bathroom with six other women to escape the genocide in her home country of Rwanda. Today, she travels the country spreading her message of faith and forgiveness. She’ll bring that message to Thibodaux in March during a retreat at St. Genevieve Catholic Church.
The Rev. Dean Danos, priest at St. Genevieve, said he wanted to invite Immaculée to Thibodaux as soon as he read her first book, “Left to Tell.” “She never lost faith,” he said. “It’s just a remarkable story.” Danos said he hopes attendees are inspired by Immaculée’s ability to “heal from that tragedy and forgive those who killed her family.”
The experience, he said, is eye-opening. “All of us, at times, might have self-pity and think ‘Why is this happening to me?’ ” he said. “But here’s someone who was so much worse off spreading a message of hope, healing and forgiveness.” The retreat starts at 6 p.m. March 7 and will continue into the evening.
It continues at 9 a.m. March 8 and concludes with a 4 p.m. Mass, celebrated by Bishop Emeritus Sam Jacobs. St. Genevieve’s Knights of Columbus will prepare a plate lunch for attendees on March 8 for $8 each. Danos said Immaculée will speak several times throughout the retreat about her experiences in Rwanda, her work to improve the country and her newest book, “The Rosary: The Prayer That Saved My Life.”
Danos said attendees will have the chance to buy copies of Immaculée’s books at the retreat. Renee Helmer, one of Immaculée’s assistants, organizes the author’s travels across the country, but was especially excited to plan her trip to Thibodaux.
Helmer grew up in Thibodaux and was a member of St. Genevieve’s Catholic Youth Organization as a teenager. “This is very, very touching for me,” she said. “I’m so happy to bring her to Thibodaux.”
Helmer began working for Immaculée in 2010 and said she was inspired by her boss’s stories of Rwandan culture. “You think, ‘How could this happen?’ ” she said. “How could such a tragedy happen to such a beautiful group of people?”
Helmer said she hopes retreat attendees will come to the event with an open mind and leave with a sense of peace. “Bring your hope, bring your wounds, your despair and all your troubles,” she said. “Offer them up so your heart will be open.”