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Forgiveness in the midst of deep suffering

Mission Week 2014 features Immaculée Ilibagiza, survivor of the Rwanda genocide, with her address, “Forgiving the Unforgivable,” at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, in the Alumni Memorial Union Monaghan Ballroom.

In many ways, Ilibagiza started her adult life as do many Marquette students. She was a student of electronic and mechanical engineering at the National University of Rwanda — the daughter of two educators — and she had high hopes for her future. She grew up in a loving family, devoted to their Catholic faith, and she experienced a childhood filled with beauty, freedom and affection. In the opening sentences of her landmark book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, Ilibagiza looks back on those days with gratitude and the realization that she had been protected from the undercurrent of bigotry and hatred that eventually fueled the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The world Ilibagiza knew was ripped from her in a wave of senseless killing. She spent terrifying months in hiding — shut in a tiny bathroom for 91 days with seven other women. And the added loss of all but one of her family members in the massacre seems more than any person could bear.

In the midst of deep suffering, Ilibagiza allowed herself to imagine the possibility of hope. Her forgiveness of the people who murdered those she loved most stands as a testament to the healing hand of God and the consequences of faith well lived. It is for this reason that she has been honored internationally for her work on behalf of Africa’s children and against racism of every kind.

As we encourage our students to dig deeply into Marquette’s mission and into the Mission Week theme, The Art and Practice of Forgiveness, they will find in Ilibagiza a model and an encourager of this journey.

Mission Week will examine the theme of forgiveness in many forms. What does it mean to be a forgiving person, family, university, church or nation? What are the differences between forgiveness, reconciliation and restorative justice? What is the moment right to forgive? Learn more about Mission Week at


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