by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Several weeks ago, I wrote about a remarkable contemporary woman of faith: Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the 1994 Rwanda holocaust. I recounted how Immaculée, by opening her heart through prayer, survived the brutal killing of her parents and two of her brothers, the massacre of a million of her fellow Rwandans, and several months of hiding from the savage killers who terrorized her nation. She discovered in her prayer the need to beg God to liberate her from the imprisonment of her own hatred and desire for revenge. Through her writing and public speaking, Immaculée has become a great evangelist for mercy and reconciliation.
In her second book, “Led by Faith: Rising from the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide,” Immaculée tells a beautiful story of what she describes as “a little miracle.” After the genocide, Immaculée worked for the United Nations in Rwanda. In the course of her work with the international recovery efforts in Rwanda, Immaculée became friends with a Nigerian couple who were Protestant missionaries.
When the couple became pregnant with their first child, they returned to Nigeria. Six months after their departure from Rwanda, Immaculée received a letter from her friends with a photo of their newborn baby girl and a plane ticket to come to Nigeria for her baptism. In order to get to Nigeria, Immaculée had to go to Nairobi, Kenya, to receive a visa. Immaculée arranged her flight plans with a Thursday overnight stopover in Nairobi, allowing her an entire day to acquire her visa.
When Immaculée went to the embassy in Nairobi on Friday morning, she was informed that the “visa officer” had been called away on a mission. She was told that she would have to come back next week to receive her visa. Immaculée explained to the embassy official that she needed to leave the next day in order to be in Nigeria on Sunday for a baptism. Moreover, she only had enough money to stay in Nairobi one night, and her plane ticket was only valid for tomorrow. The embassy bureaucrat replied coldly, “You have a lot of problems, but you’re not going to get a visa. The office is closed until next week, so come back then or go back to where you came from.”
Immaculée sat down on a bench in the waiting room, pulled out the rosary that her father had given her and surrendered her predicament to God in prayer. She describes her silent dialogue with God in this way: “Well, Lord, I need a miracle. You say in the Bible that all things are possible for those who believe. I believe You want me to be there for Abebi’s christening, so I am leaving this to You. I believe in You completely, and I believe that this visa will be stamped. Thank you so much for making it happen.”
Immaculée sat in the waiting room for several hours praying. She clutched her rosary and prayed for all the people who had trespassed against her, forgiving each one of them by name. Then she requested forgiveness for anyone whom she had hurt and prayed for them by name.
By now it was noon. She had checked her passport several times to see if miraculously the visa stamp had appeared. The embassy official saw her sitting there and said to her rather curtly, “What are you still doing here? I told you the visa office is closed, and it’s not going to open just because you sit here all day.” Immaculée asked the woman if she could remain in the waiting room. The woman responded, “Suit yourself, but you’re not going to get a visa. It is impossible. No one is authorized to do it, and the office is closed.”
Immaculée said that she continued to wait for God to show up and, in the meantime, she kept cleansing her heart by praying the rosary. After she had forgiven everyone she could think of, she prayed for each one of them again by name — sending a prayer and blessing to each one. Then she said that she thought of each blessing that God had given her during the past couple of years, thanking him individually for each one.
Hours passed. Finally, the embassy official told her, “I’m sorry, miss, but we’re closing the office for the weekend. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.” After exiting the embassy, Immaculée sat on a nearby bench. She noticed the natural beauty around her, realizing there were many more things for which to thank God. She wrote: “I began thanking Him for the clouds, the sky, the humidity, the crickets . . . and anything else that I could see, hear or feel.”
It was getting dark, and still Immaculée had no visa. She began to pray again: “I’m not doubting that You are going to do this, God. But I guess I’ll have to ask you to hurry it along a bit. Can we make a deadline for this visa — let’s say 7 p.m.?”
At 6:45 p.m., a window in the embassy slid open, and the woman who had been rude to Immaculée in the morning stuck her head out and waved for her to come over. She said to Immaculée, “I couldn’t believe it when I looked outside and saw you sitting there. Please give me the name and address of the people you’re visiting in Lagos.”
Twenty minutes later, a car pulled up in front of the embassy. A tall, officiallooking man got out of the car and asked Immaculée, “Are you here trying to get a visa?” Immaculée acknowledged that she was. The man asked her to follow him into the embassy. He went to his office where he quickly stamped her passport while commenting, “My assistant doesn’t do people favors, so I don’t know what kind of magic you worked on her, but she pestered me with phone calls until I drove all the way down here to see you.”
During the Advent season, the church invites us to cultivate a spirituality of prayerful waiting. In a sense, we are currently spending an indefinite amount of time on earth waiting to gain admittance to heaven. How we spend this time of waiting is extremely important because it will determine our eternal destiny. Immaculée’s method of waiting is worthy of imitation.
During the remaining week of Advent, spend time recalling God’s many blessings, thanking him for each by name. Pray for those by name you have hurt by your sins and ask God to bless them. Finally, and most importantly, ask the Lord to free your heart from the imprisonment of anger by granting you the grace to forgive those who have hurt you. Ask God to bless them by name. It is this type of prayerful waiting that guarantees our visa will be approved for heaven.