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LSS: A living saint?

Immaculée Ilibagiza may be a living saint.
Miraculously, she survived the Rwandan genocide that took the lives of her entire family and the vast majority of her fellow Tutsis in Rwanda during the horrors of 1994 — a reminder that no one should be lulled into complacency believing previous generations cornered the market on genocide.
Less than 20 years ago, the Hutu people of Rwanda killed up to 800,000 of their fellow countrymen, women and children.
Ilibagiza survived by hiding 91 days in a 3’ by 4’ bathroom with seven other women.
In case you don’t remember the Rwandan genocide or those terrors, Hutus killed Tutsis during the tribal genocide. Neighbors killed neighbors. Students killed teachers. Teachers killed students and on into the horrible on. Death was everywhere in Rwanda. Now many of the killers acknowledge that they had no beef with the people they murdered. They were just following orders. They thought the powers that ordered the killing might reward them with a banana plantation or something more or less valuable.
With wild abandon, the Hutus killed Tutsis. No gas chambers necessary. Just machetes and sticks and daily calls for killing on the radio. The leaders of this chilling call especially wanted Tutsi children dead. They wanted to kill the people off entirely. They almost succeeded.
Yet, a few are left to tell the story.
Ilibagiza is the only one of her family who survived — villagers killed her father, her brothers and her mother.
These days, the theme of the story Ilibagiza tells is not the one most of us would expect.
The story she tells is one of forgiveness.
“People do evil things and hurt themselves and others, but during that time I was in the bathroom, I was praying. When I got to the part, ‘forgive those who trespass against me,’ I realized I was lying to God,” she said.
So she prayed for her heart to be changed. She didn’t want to lie to God anymore.
And there in the bathroom, Ilibagiza says she went from a person in a rage who wanted to become a soldier and avenge her family to a person who realized that people had the capacity to choose good or evil — and that people could change.
She began to incorporate a new part in her prayers.
“Please let me live to tell my story,” she said.
And now, “I don’t hate anymore,” she said.
Instead she laughs. She dances — and she encourages others to do the same as she spreads a message of forgiveness.
“I can smile. I can live in peace — no matter all the hundreds of people I have lost in my life. It is a journey. If I can forgive, others can too,” she said.
Ilibagiza’s New York Times best-selling book, Left to Tell, which chronicles her experience hiding in the bathroom and surviving her country’s genocide, was released in 2006. She said she hopes her time in Lafayette will lead to more peace and love between neighbors and any people who don’t understand each other or believe they are different from others — much like the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda, who now live side-by-side again.
Ilibagiza will be in Lafayette April 15-16 to lead a retreat at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church. The cost is between $60 and $75. For details, go to www.immaculee.com or call 337-278-9257. Ilibagiza stresses that though she is Catholic and the retreat will take place in a Catholic church, that this retreat is open to people of all or no faith.
“We are all living the human experience,” she said.

LSS: Military asking a lot from one family

Kevin and Gina Connell have five children. Three of them are serving in the military.
Sgt. Kyle Connell, 23, is currently serving in Afghanistan.
Lance-Corporal Nolan Connell, 21, is stationed in North Carolina. Last week, he received orders for deployment come January 2012.
And, Corp. Sean P. Connell, 25, is stationed in Hawaii. Since he joined the Army in 2005, he’s already completed two tours of duty in Iraq. He’s scheduled to deploy for Afghanistan in March.
Except he doesn’t want to go.
His family doesn’t want him to go either.
Their reasons have little to do with the hardships of the front lines.
Their reasons have more to do with the hardships of the home front.
In September 2010, Kevin, 50, was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. According to the ALS Association, the disease affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord and causes patients to progressively lose voluntary muscle action. In the later stages of the disease, patients may become totally paralyzed and not be able to swallow or breath because of lost muscle function. ALS patients generally have a life expectancy of two to five years after diagnosis.
To put it in perspective, Gina told me, “A year ago before Christmas, Kevin was in the mall chasing me around trying to buy presents for everybody. This year he was there with me in a wheelchair.”
So, Sean and his parents and the rest of their family explain that they have begged and pleaded asking everyone they can think to ask in the military and in Washington to see if there’s any way that Sean could be sent to Fort Polk instead of Afghanistan. To this point, the answer has been, “No.”
That’s when they approached me to tell their story.
“I’m begging for my son to be transferred. It’s not too much to ask considering I’ve given three of my children to the military,” said Gina. “I’m not asking for him to get out. I just need him closer right now.”
They’ve decided they have to do what they can do.
“If we’re going to honestly look in the mirror and say we’ve done everything we could do, now’s the time to talk to the media,” Kevin said. “Sean is not trying to escape the military, he’s just trying to do a different job for a little while because of the circumstances.”
Clearly, no one can question this family’s allegiance to the country or their willingness to serve in and support in military. It’s just that this time — especially with the signs of PTSD Gina and Kevin say they have see in their son — they want him to be close enough that he can help in the process of taking care of his dying father.
“Am I going to lose my husband within the year? It’s very possible,” Gina said. “When Sean first went to Iraq, the Army said to us, ‘Be sure to send him focused. Let him know you’ll be OK. Send him there focused and ready to do his job.’ I can’t do that this time. I wouldn’t want him in my unit defending me – knowing he can’t be focused. No way.”
For Christmas, all of the Connell children were home except for Kyle, who was serving in Afghanistan. On Christmas Eve, the whole family sat around and discussed the very un-festive aspects of life with ALS. Both Kevin and Gina wanted their children to take part in Kevin’s care and decisions.
“We wanted them to be a part of it. When will I accept a feeding tube? I’ll get breathing help with a bi-pap machine, but at this point, I will not go the tracheotomy and ventilator route,” Kevin said.
Gina is doing all she can do to help take care of Kevin, but she’s also trying to help her son get the help he needs to be able to support his dad.
By all accounts, the Connell family has done a lot for the United States military and wants to continue serving.
“Sean tells me, the Army’s motto is God, family, country,” said Kevin. “But this time it seems like country is taking the top spot.”