A few years ago I read a book called “Our Lady of Kibeho,” which was a true story of a girl who had a vision of the Virgin Mary during her secondary school years. Throughout junior high and high school I was slightly obsessed with Marian apparitions, especially places such as Medjugorie and Fatima. I found it incredible that Mary would actually come speak to children and very accurately predict giant human atrocities such as the Bosnian Genocide and World War II. At the time, Kibeho was completely foreign to me; it was simply a small town tucked away in some random African country. Little did I know that a few short years later I would be standing in the exact spot where the apparitions happened! It’s impossible to describe the innumerable circumstances which brought me here, but I think I can surely say that God somehow drew me to the Blessed Mother in Kibeho, Rwanda.
As a student of theology, my image of Mary has dynamically changed since my child-like faith of 7th grade, for better and for worse. Regardless of this fact, I still find that there is something profound about the way that people respond to Marian apparitions, and that these happenings hold a serious message for a broken world. The general message of Our Lady of Kibeho was a call to conversion to prayer and repentance of sins in order to overcome the great evils in Rwanda. As with the other disasters, many people did not respond seriously to the message, and the Rwandan Genocide was carried out a few years later. When it comes to issues of faith in God, I’ve come to realize that in such a secular age, Marian apparitions carry a ubiquitous call to be mindful of how personal actions and relationships affect society as a whole.
Kibeho was the first location that Sr. Anna enthusiastically offered to bring us, so we packed into a car and made a two-day trip to the Southern Providence! It was an exceptional weekend, but surprisingly the journey was more formative and eye-opening than the points of interest. As soon as we drove out of the Kigali city limits, we entered a countryside full of scattered mud and cement huts with tin roofs, step farms, and cows. Though Kigali is wealthy by African standards, I realized that the majority of the citizens outside the city live a very simple lifestyle of sustenance farming. We drove for hours past more poverty than I have ever witnessed- but indeed it was a far different type of poverty than is widely present in the United States. Instead of a violent, inner-city poverty filled with drugs and cheap processed food, it was a rural, simple, profound poverty. While I by no means want to discount the huge efforts that the poor in America put into their work, there is something to say about the massive amounts of energy and joy with which the Rwandans go about their back-breaking labors in the fields. The context of poverty within a first-world nation compared to a third-world nation is certainly very different and I will always remember the images of thousands upon thousands of huts the size of a typical American shed.
The apparition site itself was so beautiful and peaceful! We attended Sunday Mass in Kinyarwanda, saw the secondary school where the apparitions happened, and even stepped into the room which is now dedicated as a shrine to the Blessed Mother. Sr. Anna actually used to teach at the secondary school, so we heard a lot about the politics involved in the small pilgrimage site! Since we visited on the weekend of Corpus Christi, the Mass was followed by a Eucharistic procession. Something cool to note is that there is a school for the blind here, and the blinds students led the procession from the church. Processions are not common in the US, so it was unique to watch a very different cultural tradition.