by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, was back in northeast Kansas last week speaking at Benedictine College. If you are not familiar with her remarkable story, I encourage you to read her autobiographical book, “Left to Tell.”
During the genocide in Rwanda in the early 1990s, Immaculée’s parents, two of her brothers, all of her aunts, uncles and cousins — along with one million members of her tribe — were brutally massacred in a period of three months. Immaculée survived through the kindness of a Protestant minister who hid Immaculée and seven other women in a tiny bathroom. For three months, Immaculée lived with the constant threat of being raped and brutally killed.
Immaculée had been raised in a devoutly Catholic family. During these three months of terror, Immaculée survived on prayer. She turned to God in prayer and was amazed in the ways in which Our Lord blessed her and sustained her during this reign of terror. Instead of becoming traumatized, embittered, and angry by the unspeakable horrors she witnessed and endured, Immaculée emerged with a new intimacy with God who had given her the ability to forgive even those who had murdered her beloved parents and brothers.
Immaculée was a college student at the time of the Rwandan genocide. In her talk at Benedictine, she encouraged the students to take their Catholic faith seriously and to open their hearts in prayer to Jesus. She urged the students to come to know Mary as a loving, spiritual mother who will always draw us to her son, Jesus.
This past weekend, the special initiative — “Faith: Love It, Learn It, Live It” — was launched in all of our parishes. I am convinced that Our Lord wants to use this Year of Faith as a tool to draw each of us closer to him. My prayer and desire for every member of the archdiocese is that each of us would have a friendship with God similar to the one Immaculée developed during her three months in that tiny bathroom.
I want every member of the church in northeast Kansas to know the depth of God’s love for you, not just in some hypothetical or theoretical way. I wish your experience of God’s love for you to be more real than the love of your closest relative or friend. I want you to have a friendship with Jesus that, like Immaculée’s, will provide you with the strength and peace to face any adversity and bear any hardship.
For the next several weeks, you will be hearing more about the Faith Initiative. I am asking each of you in your prayer to have a conversation with Jesus and ask him: “What is it, Lord, you want me to do during this Year of Faith?” Ask Jesus: “How is it that you want me to become closer to you and to deepen my knowledge and love for your bride, the church?”
Having listened to Jesus with an open heart, I hope that many of you will be motivated to take advantage of some of the prayer and educational opportunities that your parish is offering. The response to the invitation that the Year of Faith presents to each of us should be unique to our personal needs and circumstances. Our response to our conversation with Jesus should be significant, meaning that it should require on our part some sacrifice of our time and energy.
I encourage you to consider, as part of your observance of the Year of Faith, to participate in one of the missions that will be led by the Apostles of the Interior Life in different locations throughout the Archdiocese. The Apostles of the Interior Life have been trained to guide people in the development of a richer and more vibrant prayer life. We are so blessed to have the Apostles of the Interior Life in our archdiocese. If you want to learn how to better pray, how to converse with Jesus, attend one of these missions.
With regard to learning more about what we believe as Catholics and why, I encourage you to participate in one of the School of Faith courses on the Catechism of the Catholic Church which will also be offered at many locations throughout the Archdiocese. I can think of no better way to gain a comprehensive understanding of the breadth of Catholic teaching than by attending these School of Faith classes.
Once again, God has uniquely blessed our Archdiocese with the School of Faith, making available to us a remarkable team of some of the best American teachers of our Catholic faith right here in northeast Kansas. I am confident, if you participate in the School of Faith catechism course, you will be amazed and grateful for your increased knowledge and love for your Catholic faith.
I am excited about what God wants to do in each of our hearts during the coming year. We live during incredibly turbulent times. The wave of anti-American demonstrations that swept across Africa and the Mideast is frightening. Many continue to suffer because of our poor economy. The moral fabric of our society appears to be unraveling at an alarming pace.
Yet, despite the turmoil swirling around us, Jesus wants to have a friendship with each of us that can give us peace even in the midst of the most turbulent storm. If God could gift Immaculée in such incredible ways during her three months in that tiny bathroom, think about what he could accomplish in our hearts during the coming year!