This week, the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. The holy day took on special significance to me this particular summer.
For the past five years or so, I’ve been hearing about Immaculee Ilibagizafrom my daughter’s godmother and my good friend, Mary. Each year our families have gathered in the fall at Camp Wilderness near Park Rapids, Minn., I would hear yet another rendition, based on another of Immaculee’s books — the most famous of which, I would say, was her first, Left to Tell.
Mary brought Immaculee’s story to life for me through her lively enthusiasm and vivid descriptions of how Immaculee had survived the Rwandan genocide of the early 1990s. And yet, somehow, I’d never picked up any of Immaculee’s work. However, with Immaculee’s impending visit to our area next month, I was commissioned to write a preview article for our local newspaper, and so I had the privilege of interviewing Immaculee by phone from her current home in New York two weeks ago. To prepare, I borrowed two of Mary’s books — her second, Led by Faith, and her third, Our Lady of Kibeho.
I’m towards the end of the latter now, and it has been a fascinating read, just as the former was. Reading about the Marian apparitions to a group of Rwandan children in the early 1980s has been so enlightening. I’ve always been drawn to Mary, but I’m embarrassed to say that until recently, I’d either not heard of or thought a lot about her appearances in Africa.
Christianity, including Catholicism, has grown in Africa. And though these apparitions don’t account for all of that growth, the 1980s visits most certainly influenced a spike in devotion of the faithful. They also provided something of a prophetic warning of the atrocities that would unfold just 13 years later.
Reading this story from Immaculee’s perspective, though, has not only informed, but touched me personally. It has brought to mind my feelings when I was introduced to Our Lady of Lourdes back in my childhood, and how I wished, for a time, that she would appear to me. Until I became too frightened and decided perhaps I was not equipped for such a visit after all.
The day I interviewed Immaculee, she was set to leave for Rwanda with her family after our visit. I was curious what the purpose of her visit home might be, and she said they were traveling back to take part in a Holy Day pilgrimage. Since this was at the beginning of August, I can only assume the visit had something to do with the Assumption.
On September 8, I will travel with Mary to Grafton, ND, to meet Immaculee and worship at Mass with her and hear her presentation in person. I am already grateful to her for what she’s offered me through the two books of hers I’ve read. And though nobody asked for a endorsement, I would strongly encourage a read of Immaculee’s books. Her faith is so precious, and her devotion, so inspiring. I do believe God has led her to her work of writing and presenting very purposefully.
Through Immaculee’s efforts of recording stories from her childhood, from the holocaust that befell her country, and details that surrounded Mary’s visits, I’ve been reminded of the pure and deep love Mary has for all of us. And though her primary mission remains pointing us to her son, our Lord, she’s also here to acknowledge our humanity and draw us close, to reassure us that there’s still time to make a difference, and that we can help transform this world of woe into something that brings life, hope and peace!
I’ll be back after Immaculee’s visit to share more of her message. For now, I would encourage anyone who hasn’t already to find Immaculee’s work. If you’re looking for a good, end-of-summer read, you will not be disappointed by what she offers. Her writings are packed full of important messages that have practical implications for those of us in the world today.
Q4U: Have you read any of Immaculee’s books? What did you think?
Copyright 2012 Roxane Salonen
About the Author
Roxane B. Salonen, a wife and mother of five from Fargo, N.D., is an award-winning children’s author and freelance writer who also enjoys Catholic radio hosting and speaking. Roxane co-authored former Planned Parenthood manager Ramona Trevino’s memoir, Redeemed by Grace. Her work is featured on "Peace Garden Passage" at her website, roxanesalonen.com