Genocide survivor returns to address men’s conference

Immaculee Ilibagiza inspired the audience at last year’s Boston Catholic Women’s Conference with her story of faith and survival during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Ilibagiza is returning this year to share her story with the Boston Catholic Men’s Conference. Pilot photo/ Courtesy Immaculee Ilibagiza

BOSTON -- The woman whose remarkable story riveted the audience at last year’s Boston Catholic Women’s Conference will be back -- only this time she will be addressing Boston’s Catholic men.

Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Rwandan-born Catholic who survived the 1994 genocide, will return to speak to the men at this year’s Boston Catholic Men’s Conference.

“I am very excited, and very grateful for the opportunity to speak to the men at this year’s conference,” Ilibagiza said during a March 20 telephone interview.

“I feel I definitely connected very well with the [women’s] conference last year and am looking forward to connecting with the men’s one as well,” she added.

Ilibagiza told The Pilot that she attended last year’s men’s conference “just to see what it was like to see all those men together, all worshipping God.”

What she saw made her think of her family, especially her three brothers and her father, all of whom were killed during the genocide.

“My father came to my mind so much when I was there last year. I know how much he would have loved to have been at a place like that,” she said. “It brought back a lot of emotions.”

Because she is going to address the men’s conference, Ilibagiza admits that in recent weeks, “I have really been thinking about my dad.”

“The whole village looked up to my father,” she said, describing a poignant memory she has of her father in the days before the genocide began.

“The village was all coming to him, knocking on our door. My father got out and stood on a rock,” described Ilibagiza. “My dad told everyone, ‘If they have planned to kill Tutsis, it is in the plan of God...it is time to repent our sins so we can still be people of dignity in front of death.’”

Shortly after speaking to the village, her father then sent her to a Protestant pastor of the Hutu tribe, who had agreed to hide her as the killings began. For 91 days, Ilibagiza huddled close to seven other women, hidden in a tiny bathroom, watching with horror as her entire village was killed.

Ilibagiza credits her father with saving her life.

“Even if my father was about to die, he was still a man and he still was there to protect me,” she said.

“Every emotion I have about my dad is coming through because I am thinking about what it is I am going to say,” she said, admitting she is “a bit nervous” about speaking at the men’s conference. She noted that, despite many speaking appearances, she has never addressed such a large group of only men.

However, Ilibagiza sees the importance of having strong Catholic men.

Every family needs a man who is strong in faith faithfully, she said. “Every woman is looking for that.”

Ilibagiza is only one of several speakers who will address the Boston Catholic men at the all-day men’s conference, which will be held on April 19 at the Conte Forum in Boston College. Other speakers include Tarek Saab, cofounder of Lionheart Apparel and former candidate on NBC’s “The Apprentice”; Father Peter Grover, OMV, director of St. Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine in Boston; and Jack Shaughnessy, philanthropist and successful local businessman.

This year, the Boston Catholic Women’s Conference will be held the afternoon before the men’s conference, April 18, also at BC’s Conte Forum. The half-day conference, which will begin at 5 p.m., will feature speakers such as Kimberly Hahn -- author and mother of six, who together with her husband, Dr. Scott Hahn, leads retreats and lectures throughout the country; and Patti Gallagher Mansfield, author and leader of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

In addition to the speakers, both conferences will host a variety of exhibitors. Confession and eucharistic adoration will also be available throughout the day.

More information on the men’s and women’s conferences is available at www.catholicboston.com.

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