I have just had a meeting which was so utterly amazing that a part of me wants to keep this precious moment to myself, locked away in the privacy of my heart forever so that the wonderful feeling it has given me will never be lost. But you are my friends and that just wouldn’t be fair, so please allow me to share this extra special gift with you!  

 It all started a few months ago during my travels when I had the extreme good fortune of bumping into a Bishop who, after shaking my hand in greeting, asked: “Immaculée, have you ever met the Pope?”  I think I may have laughed silently, imagining myself, me, a poor girl from the little African village of Mataba, standing in the Vatican speaking face to face with His Holiness. I smiled at the bishop. “Oh no, sir,” I answered politely, “I’ve never met the Pope. And although I’ve always dreamed of doing so…I can’t imagine it ever happening.” The Bishop took me by the arm and pulled me aside. “Immaculée,” he said earnestly, “You simply must meet the Pope…you absolutely have to! Pray for it to happen!”

I told the Bishop I would love to meet the Pope, but that I knew that the Pope was very busy and had many important demands on his time. If I was going to get on my knees and pray to God to help me meet the Pope, I’d need a good reason to justify such a meeting. “Immaculée,” the Bishop said kindly. “We Catholic priests bless instruments of our faith all the time; we bless crucifixes, scapulars, and rosaries, just to name a few. You yourself are such an instrument…a living instrument, you are on an important mission to share God’s message of love and forgiveness. Don’t you think it makes sense for the head of the Church to bless you?” The Bishop’s words touched my heart and I immediately began to pray to the Blessed Mother every day, asking her to intercede on my behalf to help me meet the Pope!

Well, just few months later–on September 2nd—my prayers were answered! I was at a speaking engagement in Rome when the group I was addressing was granted an audience with the Pope. Unexpectedly someone told me that the Pope would be happy to meet me! I felt dizzy. My brained screamed: “How does the Pope even know who I am!?” But my mouth answered humbly, “Yes, I would love to meet the Pope with all my heart!" I couldn't sleep at all that night! The next morning I went to the Vatican as part of the group, but was one of only a handful selected to have a one-on-one meeting with the Pope. And before I knew what was happening, I was there, standing in front of him and completely immersed in the incredible sense of peace and wellbeing this gentle servant of God seems to bestow on all those he greets. No wonder they call him His Holiness!

We spent less than five minutes together, a period of time that simultaneously seemed to last an eternity and be over in the blink of an eye. In those few moments the Pope put me completely at ease. He smiled kindly at me, blessed my rosary, blessed me personally, and then encouraged me to continue with my work! Today I pass those blessings along to you, my dear friends, hoping you share this wonderful sense of purpose and joy I carry in my heart. Also, having now met His Holiness, I can assure you that he is a true shepherd to his flock and that he includes each and every one of you in his prayers…I humbly ask you to include him in yours.

Immaculée Ilibagiza was born in Rwanda and studied electronic and mechanical engineering at the National University. Immaculée holds honorary doctoral degrees from The University of Notre Dame and Saint John’s University, and was awarded The Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace 2007.