Kibeho (Agenzia Fides)- “We are very grateful to Cardinal Ivan Dias prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples for coming to preside the Mass to close a special Jubilee year for the 25th anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Kibeho” Bishop Augustin Misago of the diocese of Gikongoro, in Rwanda, told Fides. The Cardinal Dias presided the closing Jubilee Mass at the Shrine of Kibeho on 28th of November (see Fides 28/11/2007).
“All the bishops of Rwanda were present for the occasion as well as at least 300 priests from Rwanda and neighbouring countries, Burundi and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo” said Bishop Misago. “Large crowds of faithful, about 35,000 came from all over the country, from other African countries and from as far away as the United States ”.
“The Mass, which lasted for more than five hours, was celebrated with a deep sense of devotion and participation: it was a moment of grace for all” said the Bishop of Gikongoro.
With regard to the Kibeho Jubilee, Bishop Misago said “it was lived with great awareness by the faithful. Each month was dedicated in particular to a certain group of people who came on pilgrimage in large numbers: young people, associations of consecrated life, Catholic Family associations etc.
The apparitions at Kibeho were officially recognised by the local Church on 29 June 2001 after 20 years of examination by a two commissions, one medical, the other theological, set up by the local Bishop. Recognition was given on to apparitions received by three persons: Alphonsine Mumureke, Nathalie Mukamazimpaka and Marie Claire Mukangango. The Blessed Virgin presented herself as Nyina wa Jambo, Mother of the Word.
Bishop Misago announced the special Kibeho Jubilee Year in a Message dated 8 September. He said celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the first apparition at Kibeho would begin on 28 November 2006 and conclude on 28 November 2007, according to a programme proposed by the pastoral committee of Kibeho Shrine. The Shrine had been officially opened in 2003 on 31 May by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.
On the occasion of the opening of the Jubilee year Bishop Misago said “I am happy to see people taking part in the procession and Mass with such faith. Among those present, all the bishops of Rwanda and Burundi, thousands of priests, religious and lay people from all over Rwanda, from Burundi, Democratic Congo (Kivu), Tanzania and Uganda and even from Belgium, Poland and Germany.
In his message Bishop Misago “to celebrate the Jubilee in a worthy manner we must respond to the message of Kibeho. This includes: praying regularly in the year for the intentions of the Pope; taking part in Mass and receiving Holy Communion; receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation; reconciling ourselves with people we consider enemies, ask forgiveness of those we have offended; show mutual respect and tolerance in the family, among neighbours, at work, at meetings and in other social circumstances; work with courage to promote truth and justice for all, especially at the present time when the Gacaca Courts, (peoples traditional courts charged with judging persons accused of being involved in the genocide 1994) are operating and must be well organised so they do no become a forum of injustice and revenge under the cover of the law; increase our acts of charity and mercy, especially during Lent, giving offerings to support humanitarian associations such as Caritas and others which pursue the same ends”.
Information: The Apparitions at Kibeho
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared at Kibeho for the first time on 28 November 1981 to a school girl 16 year old Alphonsine Mumureke who described the vision of a Lady of incomparable beauty whose skin colour was not well defined. The girl saw the Blessed Virgin while serving her companions at a meal in the school refectory. Eyewitnesses heard the girl speak in French, English, Kinyarwanda and other unfamiliar tongues. Mary presented herself as Ndi Nyina wa Jambo ("I am the Mother of the Word)
On 29 November 1981 Our Lady appeared again to Alphonsine and in the following month of December she appeared almost every Saturday. At first Alphonsine was ridiculed by her school friends but later people outside the school wanted to know more about the case and from January are from 16 December 1982 public apparitions began to happen in the school grounds and private ones in the school dormitory only to Alphonsine and a few pupils. Alphonsine received the last apparition in 1989.
On 12 January 1982 Our Lady began to appear another school girl aged 17, Nathalie Mukamazimpaka. The last apparition she received was in December 1983. However the most surprising visions were those granted, starting from 2 March 1982, to one of the most sceptical of the girls, Marie-Claire Mukangango (21 years old at the time). These apparitions lasted six months.
During the visions the three girls received different messages. On 15 August 1982, they saw vision which was later seen as a warning of the genocide which happened in Rwanda in 1994; Our Lady appears in tears and the girls see "a river of blood, people killing each other, abandoned corpses with no one to bury them, a tree on fire, chasm, a monster, decapitated heads." But in other visions the Blessed Virgin Mary was smiling and asks all men and women to love her as a loving mother of her children ("you need not be afraid of your mother" Mary said). She called all people to convert their hearts, to pray, especially the Rosary, to live with humility and to love their neighbours. The girls were also shown Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.
These apparitions were approved by Bishop Augustin Misago of the diocese of Gikongoro, where the apparitions at Kibeho happened, with a declaration made public on the 29 June 2001. Four other young persons, a boy and three girls, claimed they had received visions of Our Lady and Mary but the visions were not recognised. Since 1982 pilgrimages and conversions have continued at Kibeho.
"Our Lady taught me to pray the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, because she said a tragedy was about to happen in Rwanda”, said Nathalie Mukamazimpaka, and she recalled the warning Our Lady gave during her apparitions. “She asked us to change our way of life, to love the sacraments, to do penance and to pray the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows continually for the conversion of heart of people who live as it God did not exist, and she asked us to be humble and to ask forgiveness and to forgive” Nathalie concluded.
“Forgiveness is a central element of the Gospel message” Bishop Augustine Misago, of the diocese of Gikongoro told Fides. “Without forgiveness it is impossible to build a society founded on the Gospel. Indeed without forgiveness a society will never be peaceful, it will always be strife-ridden”.
Bishop Misago recalled the amazement and disquietude caused by what the visionaries said: “Now we can say this was a prediction of the tragedy of Rwanda, but I remember the feast of the Assumption on 15 August 1982, instead of seeing Our Lady filled with joy, they were shown terrifying visions, rivers of blood pouring out of corpses abandoned without burial on the hillside. At the time no one knew the significance of those terrible images. Now we realise it was a vision of what was to happen in Rwanda and all over the region of the Great Lakes where blood is being shed in Burundi, in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo”.
The Bishop of Gikongoro added that the message of Our Lady of Kibeho is for the whole of humanity. “Hearts must be converted to obtain greater justice. We live in a situation of unbalance where the rich are ever richer and the poor ever poorer. This situation is shameful and each of us must make an examination of conscience ”.
The Church in Rwanda
“Our young people are the future of the Church in Rwanda. We must start with them it we want to heal the wounds of the past”. This was how Bishop Alexis Habiyambere S.J. of Nyundo chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Rwanda described the prospects of the Catholic Church in Rwanda, in an interview with Fides.
“ The local Church is fully committed to promoting national reconciliation. The Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops plays an important role and so do Catholic schools with regard to educating the younger generations to respect and love for others. And our Catholic youth movements bring together and form children and young people of different ethnic groups” said the President of the Rwandan Bishops' Conference.
With regard to the future of the Church in Rwanda Bishop Habiyambere said: “The Church in Rwanda is a lively reality. The tragic events in 1994 did not affect the spirituality of Rwandan Catholics as some commentators had predicted, on the contrary, the faith of the people was strengthened. Most of our clergy and religious today are local born and vocations are flourishing. Indeed our seminaries are overflowing and need to be enlarged if anything!” “However the presence of missionaries is still important for formation, education and healthcare” the Bishop said. “The request for spirituality in Rwanda is the reason for the spread of sects which offer messages more easily understood than that of Christianity and are very lapse with regard to moral behaviour . However the problem of religious sects exists not only in Rwanda but all over Africa and in many other parts of the world” the Bishop concluded.
To heal scars of the 1994 genocide and promote a culture of peace Rwandan born Catholic nun Sister Donata Uwimanimpaye head mistress of a Catholic School in Muramba has launched a peace project called Apax.
The aim of Apax , an entirely Rwandan endeavour, is to respond to the people’s desire for reconciliation and peace. The programme includes initiatives of non violence and conflict solving for example the building of a candle factory.
Sr Donata Uwimanimpaye studied at the University of Fribourg, in Switzerland and was there in 1994 at the time of the genocide in Rwandan. The subject of her thesis on “Preparation for Conflict Solving”. Now she intends to put her studies into practice to help solve social problems and tensions with methods learned in Switzerland and since 1999 in the United States.
Apax has branches in various parts of the country opened by young teachers. Christian education to the value of peace is totally in keeping with the objectives of Rwanda’s National Commission for Unity and Reconciliation..
Information on the Catholic Church in Rwanda (source: Church's Year Book of Statistics 2005). Population 9 million, including 4, 249,000 Catholics in 9 diocese and 149 parishes. There are 10 bishops 445 diocesan priests, 126 religious priests, 170 Brothers and 1,455 Sisters, and 4,345 catechists. The Church runs 137 kindergartens for 38,648 children; 1,232 primary schools for 892,434 pupils; 131 secondary schools with 61,351 pupils, 16 hospitals, 87 dispensaries. (Agenzia Fides 1/12/2007 righe 153 parole 1926)