Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, a Roman Catholic liturgical ritual commonly referred to as mass is in full swing. Pilgrims from all over the world have shown up in record numbers to commemorate assumption of the blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. They are occupying every square foot of the ground outside the Chapel of Seven Sorrows.
Daily masses are usually held in the chapel but today, it has become too small to accommodate even one tenth of the flocking faithfuls.
Traffic police officers are busy directing drivers and ensuring orderly parking is observed. The football pitch near the old parish is reserved for buses ferrying visitors from different parts of Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. It looks like the venue of a regional public transport trade fair.
Many more vehicles are dropping visitors from all existing continents. Earlier in the morning, cars lined up bumper to bumper all the way from Kigali. Latecomers parked their vehicles kilometers away and walked to the periphery of the field far away from the altar.
In order to avoid anticipated slow traffic in the morning, my friends and I left Kigali late, last night. It was 2 in the morning when we made it to the holy land. The Shrine of Seven Sorrows and the Apparition Chapel were full of petitioners and worshipers. A few lodging facilities available in the area were fully booked and numerous visitors were camping outside the church.
It was almost 3 a.m. when we checked into the Cana Formation Center built on a hill known as Nyarushishi, not far away from the Kibeho Sanctuary. I tried to sleep but the caffeinated beverages I was consuming while driving in the middle of the night kept me awake all night long. Shortly after I finally fell asleep, my alarm went off reminding me to get ready for an early appointment.
As the order of the mass proceeded, effects of sleep deprivation started kicking in but I wouldn’t dare complain because I had seen seriously sick people who had spent days toiling to Kibeho on foot from the remotest parts of Burundi and Congo. My life is too easy to complain.
Kibeho is a site of spiritual significance to those who believe in the authenticity of the reported apparitions of Virgin Mary. The story of a mysterious visitor who introduced herself as Nyina wa Jambo (Mother of the Word) is the reason a multitude of pilgrims have gathered here.
Despite hosting a big number of visitors on such days, Kibeho remains relatively unknown. This village found in the Southern Province of Rwanda is not as popular as many other apparition sites across the world. Yet, the level of interpersonal interaction between Virgin Mary and her visionaries experienced here is second to none.
The story of Our Lady of Kibeho is a series of apparitions experienced between 1981 and 1989. In most cases, her encounters with visionaries took place following appointments set in advance. She interacted with the girls she appeared to in an unmatched degree of communication and synergy. She sang songs with them, prayed with them, cracked jokes with them and cried with them. She laughed with them, warned them, taught them, encouraged them and gave them assignments. She demonstrated parenting traits never shown in other documented apparitions elsewhere. I find the story of the apparitions of Kibeho more fascinating than the rest.
Since most apparitions were announced in advance, they took place in the presence of reporters, theologians, scientists, believers, doubters, spectators and mockers. Unfortunately, witnesses could follow only one side of the dialogues because the mysterious visitor in question was neither visible nor audible to them.
Recently, I had an opportunity to talk to several witnesses and one of the three visionaries. Supernatural powers are written all over their narratives. Members of the Medical Commission of Inquiry were not able to find scientific answers to a number of logically inexplicable incidents they witnessed.
Today, pilgrims from all over the world are converging on this hill once again. They are here to celebrate another feast of assumption and present their petitions to Nyina wa Jambo. When they travel back to their respective communities the world over, they will serve as messengers sent to convey an urgent message of conversion of hearts and repentance.