Since 2014, the issue of diversity in publishing has garnered a lot of attention and raised the question: which stories deserve to be told? Many statistics highlight that stories written by and featuring people of color, as well as those from marginalized communities, are published less often, less reviewed, and given less exposure. One true-life story that’s often overlooked happened in Kibeho, Rwanda.
Most adults know about the Rwandan genocide in 1994 or even saw the critically acclaimed movie, “Hotel Rwanda.” In the span of 100 days, more than a million Rwandans were murdered by their neighbors while the world looked on. However, most people don’t know about the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to many people beginning in 1981 in the small village in that country, Kibeho, that transformed lives and foretold the genocide. The narrative told during the genocide had the power to preserve life or cause death.
On November 28, 1981, sixteen-year-old Alphonsine Mumureke had finished a pop quiz in geometry at Kibeho High School and was walking down the hall when she began to feel odd. She lost all sense of time and space and saw a vision of a beautiful woman emerging from a cloud, bathed in shimmering light. The woman introduced herself as “the Mother of the Word,” said she wanted Alphonsine and her friends to have more faith, and wanted to be loved and trusted to lead souls to Jesus. After the vision, the majority of the people at school did not believe Alphonsine had seen Mary. However, Mary gradually appeared to three other students, then many more. Soon people became convinced the Mother of God truly was visiting the girls.
Thousands of people flocked to watch the visionaries have apparitions of Our Lady, and faith and goodwill spread throughout Kibeho and the neighboring villages. Expecting something wonderful to occur, over 20,000 people turned out on August 15, 1982 – the feast day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. However, during Alphonsine’s vision, Mary’s message was unexpectedly dire. Alphonsine became very upset and later revealed that she was shown horrific images of destruction; rivers of blood; and hundreds of thousands of dead, dismembered, and decapitated bodies. The two other visionaries subsequently were shown the same horrifying images.
Mary urged the visionaries to warn the people that Rwanda was on the road to destruction if everyone did not cleanse their hearts of hatred. She told them that a small seed of anger can grow into a tree of hatred. During Mary’s apparitions to Marie-Claire, she assigned the young visionary a mission to reintroduce the Seven Sorrows Rosary, which had been instituted in the Middle Ages but fell out of use, and recalls the sorrows Jesus and Mary faced during their lives.
After the visions, two separate investigation commissions were established by the local ordinary: a medical commission on March 20th, 1982 to find out if the visionaries had any medical or mental health conditions; and a theological commission on May 14th, 1982 to evaluate if the messages given to the visionaries were theologically sound. In 1985, the theological commission carried out an investigation to collect the reactions to the events and found a great spiritual renewal, conversions, and an increase of vocations to the priesthood or religious life. On August 15, 1988, the local Bishop decided to approve a public devotion linked to the apparitions of Kibeho. Marie-Claire’s last vision was on September 15th, 1982; Nathalie’s last vision was December 3rd, 1983, and Alphonsine’s visions lasted for exactly eight years, ending on November 28th, 1989. Though the visions ended, with such renewed faith emanating out of Kibeho and spreading through Rwanda, many had no reason to believe Mary’s prophecy would happen.
However, on April 6, 1994, Rwanda’s Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana was assassinated. At the time, there were three ethnic groups: Hutu (who made up roughly 85% of the population), the Tutsi (14%) and the Twa (1%). The elite class “Tutsis” had been manufactured under German and Belgian colonial rule during the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries – a tactic widely used during colonization – and the Belgians used the Tutsi minority to enforce their rule over Hutu. There were decades of conflict between the ethnic groups, and after the president’s assassination, the Rwandan Armed Forces and civilian militias known as interahamwe began killing the Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The privately-owned radio station, Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines, known as “Hate Radio” in Rwanda, became a weapon, and its broadcasts inflamed tensions by telling a false political narrative to motivate Hutus to continue killing their neighbors. They stoked flames by reminding Hutus of the injustices committed against them since colonial rule, and stated that if they did not fight back, they would become slaves to the Tutsis. Following the instruction of the radio station, many Hutus killed hundreds of thousands of people. Sadly, the Virgin Mary’s prophecies came true.
After the genocide, and with renewed interest in the Marian prophecies, the investigation into the validity of the Kibeho visionaries continued. On June 29, 2001, Mons. Augustine Misago, Bishop of Gikongoro, read the Holy See’s final judgment, which concluded the Virgin Mary did indeed appear in Kibeho, and only considered the testimonies of the three initial visionaries – Alphonsine, Nathalie, and Marie Claire – as authentic. Three days later, Pope John Paul II and the Vatican added Kibeho to the list of Marian approved apparition sites, making it the 15th approved apparition site since the 16th century.
Today, an estimated 500,000 pilgrims journey to Kibeho every year to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Kibeho, which houses a sixteen-foot tall Divine Mercy statue. However, the Marian apparition is not widely known outside of the African continent, nor given the amount of recognition or devotion it deserves. Mary repeatedly told the visionaries that her message of renewed faith, love, repentance, and forgiveness was not just for Kibeho, or Rwanda, or Africa – it was for the whole world. In such tense and divisive times, it’s important to spread and heed this message. The true-life story of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Kibeho is a story that deserves to be told.
Ilibagiza, Immaculee. Our Lady of Kibeho. Hay House, Inc., 2008.