We are right in the midst of the social event of the year with the Delaware County Fair and the running of the 70th Little Brown Jug, the final leg of the coveted Triple Crown of Harness Racing. Unfortunately, instead of hobnobbing with Greg Trimble and his cast of characters, I made previous arrangements to spend a week with friends in northern Michigan.
At the same time, this is the week in which Pope Francis is making his visit to our country, another significant event in which some of our parishioners will be present. However, I also passed on that.
Thus, there were two opportunities to be at rather momentous occasions, and I headed in a different direction for which I do feel a tinge of guilt.
In an unrelated event, two weeks ago St. Mary’s and Ohio Wesleyan University did host a renowned speaker from Rwanda in Africa named Immaculee Illibagiza. It took several months to be able to nail down a date and time for her to be here, and frankly, I was not totally sold on her coming. Through the persistence of parishioners Renee Olney and Stacy Oyster, and the commitment of OWU Chaplain Jon Powers and Catholic sidekick Mary Jeffries, they made it happen.
As advertised, she was one who survived the Rwandan genocide that took place more than 20 years ago in which over 1 million of her countrymen and women were massacred by a rival tribe, and the dead included all of her family members, except for her brother. For 90 days, she and seven others were holed up in a bathroom of a church rectory.
Eventually, these few were able to find their way to safety. Thirteen years before this atrocity, the Virgin Mary began to appear to several people in a town called Kibeho, a couple of hours from where Immaculee lived. The Virgin Mary communicated to these visionaries messages for the people to become more prayerful and charitable; otherwise, there would be consequences. The apparitions went unheeded, and the results were devastating.
Immaculee was drawn to the apparitions as they were becoming more known. But when the horror of the massacre and the devastation became more realized, she was consumed by grief as well as hate. Yet, through God’s grace, the Blessed Mother began to lead her to the redemptive love of her Son. Over a period of time, her grief and hate began to dissipate and was replaced by mercy and forgiveness. This transformation was truly supernatural. Since that time, Immaculee has been sharing her story as one who was “left to tell.”
I was able to see her on both Thursday evening at Gray Chapel and the following morning at St. Mary’s Church. On Friday, I did have a front row seat and could truly see her face to face. Her face radiated a beauty and a sweetness that showed no traces of her horrible past, but to me seemed as though the Blessed Mother was appearing to us through her countenance.
She was like a mother who was delighting in her children, as our second-graders compiled a collage of questions for her. I felt as though our church, named St. Mary, was being consecrated through the presence of Immaculee.
My earlier reservations on her coming were humbly lifted — that she could be transformed into this instrument of God’s mercy and forgiveness from the living hell that she experienced, is a clear witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus.
Coincidentally, the date that she presented at St. Mary’s was Sept. 11, the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in our country. For many, this event is still raw and the horror, devastation, hurt and even hate linger. Immaculee’s presence and message is one that is timeless, and one that supersedes being in the right place with the right people.
Father Michael Watson has served as pastor of St. Mary Church since July 2013. He also regularly offers invocations for the Touchdown Club and Agonis Club luncheons.