Pray­ing for mir­a­cles in Rwanda

Many flock to Rwan­dan church where Vir­gin Mary ‘ap­peared’ to school­girls


CHRIS­TIAN pil­grims gather each year in their thou­sands in the south­ern Rwan­dan hill town of Kibeho, where three school­girls said the Vir­gin Mary ap­peared to them, some hope­ful of mir­a­cles.

A ser­vice held this week in the small, iso­lated town marked the 35th an­niver­sary of the first re­ported ap­pear­ance of the mother of Christ, which was au­then­ti­cated by the Vat­i­can in 2001.

Peo­ple crowded to­gether in front of the brick church, some seated on the grass, fac­ing a plat­form sur­rounded by blue-and-white flags, to hear the mass said in Kin­yarwanda, French and English.

“It’s the fourth time I’ve come here. It was a long trip but that doesn’t mat­ter be­cause I come to pray on holy ground,” said Alphonse Mun­ye­m­ana, a bi­cy­cle-taxi driver of 19 who ar­rived on Sun­day af­ter­noon af­ter ped­alling for 10 hours from Nya­m­agabe to the north.

Many pil­grims came to Kibeho by bus. Oth­ers also rode their bikes or came on foot and some trav­elled from neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

Peo­ple slept on the grass in front of the church, lack­ing the money to pay for a room in one of the ho­tels in town, which were all full any­way.

The an­nual pil­grim­age be­gan once the Ro­man Catholic Church for­mally ac­knowl­edged that the Vir­gin Mary had ap­peared to teenagers Alphon­sine Mu­mureke, Nathalie Muka­maz­im­paka and Marie-Claire Mukan­gango, on Novem­ber 28 1981 and in sub­se­quent years.

At the foot of the hill on which the church stands, the faith­ful queue up to fill con­tain­ers with wa­ter from the “spring of the Vir­gin Mary”, which trick­les into a brown­ish pond.

“In the past, I had prob­lems with swollen feet and breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties but, thanks to the blessed wa­ter, I am cured,” said Car­i­tas Niy­ibi­gira, 47, from Rubavu in western Rwanda.

Grace Mor­ris, a woman of 31 from Uganda, says ear­lier this year, she saw a paral­ysed young boy re­cover the use of his limbs af­ter be­ing taken into the Chapel of Ap­pari­tions, the former high school dor­mi­tory where the Holy Mother is said to have ap­peared to the girls.

“We saw the child come run­ning out of the chapel shout­ing with joy,” Mor­ris said.

The Pol­ish priest who has been rec­tor of the sanc­tu­ary for 11 years, Zbig­niew Pawlowski, says the spring wa­ter is like “that of Lour­des (in France), a bit special”.

How­ever, he notes none of the mir­a­cles held to have taken place at Kibeho have been in­ves­ti­gated by a sci­en­tific com­mis­sion and there­fore they have not been recog­nised by the Holy See.

Along the main road lead­ing to the church, pil­grims can stop at shops to buy rosaries, stat­ues of the Vir­gin Mary and T-shirts marked “I am the Mother of the Word”, which she is held to have told the school­girls when she first ap­peared.

Apart from a mes­sage call­ing for con­ver­sion, the Holy Mother is said in some in­ter­pre­ta­tions to have warned about the geno­cide that would claim about 800 000 lives 13 years later, when Hutu mili­tias and sol­diers mostly mas­sa­cred mi­nor­ity Tut­sis.

“The Vir­gin Mary spoke and showed the girls a mys­ti­cal jour­ney; the girls saw hills full of corpses, rivers full of blood,” Pawlowski said.

“There were hills, burnt houses and many dead peo­ple, so we can say the Vir­gin Mary showed what was go­ing to hap­pen in Rwanda a few years later.”

Kibeho was not spared in the slaugh­ter.

In April 1994, hun­dreds of Tut­sis who had taken refuge in the parish church, about 800m from the sanc­tu­ary, were mas­sa­cred by In­ter­a­hamwe youth mili­tia.

Be­tween April and July 1994, mass mur­ders took place in many churches, where the killers found their vic­tims gath­ered – some were be­trayed by priests.

On Novem­ber 21, the Rwan­dan Catholic church asked for for­give­ness for all Chris­tians who had been in­volved in the geno­cide, in a let­ter signed by the coun­try’s nine bish­ops.

The govern­ment led by Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame, a former rebel whose forces ended the mas­sacres, re­jected the apol­ogy as in­ad­e­quate and said that the call for for­give­ness should come from the Vat­i­can it­self.

The church has been los­ing ground in Rwanda since the geno­cide.

While about half the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion of 11.5 mil­lion re­main Ro­man Catholics, many peo­ple have turned to Pen­te­costal preach­ers and their call for “awak­en­ing”. – AFP


FAITH­FUL: Catholic pil­grims car­ried a statue of the Vir­gin Mary dur­ing cel­e­bra­tions in Kibeho in south­ern Rwanda last month to mark the an­niver­sary of the re­ported ap­pari­tion of the Vir­gin Mary in 1981.

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