The year was 1981. In a small village known as Kibeho, Rwanda, a young girl in the sixth grade by the name of Alphonsina was given a unique gift that few in the world have seen. A supernatural apparition of Mary.
This gift was then followed in 1982 when Anathalia, another young girl, began to see the apparitions alongside Alphonsina, and finally a third girl (who actually began by mocking both Anathalia and Alphonsina) also began to see Mary. Her name was Maria Clare.
Apparitions of Mary always cause a stir within the Church, and it is only after there is a proper, and lengthy investigation into the apparitions that the Church recognizes such occurrences as valid. The most famous of these apparitions are in Europe. Especially well known are the shrines of Fatima and Lourdes, where Mary also appeared to children. There are many reports of apparitions throughout the world, but Kibeho is one of the places where the Church has confirmed that the reports are true. Indeed, Mary did appear here.
Today, I had the chance to go to Kibeho, and I guess I was a little shocked. Fatima and Lourdes have hundreds of gift shops that line the streets to the site of the apparitions. They have fanciful statues, and facilities to accommodate pilgrims who wish to pray and leave a token of their devotion.
I personally think that Mary, a simple woman of Palestine, appreciates the simplicity of Kibeho. To get to Kibeho, you must traverse a rocky dirt road that requires a 4x4 vehicle to pass. There is a new church, built with a great deal of support from outside sources, but other than that, the site of the apparitions is plainly marked with a simple statue. There is nothing fancy, nothing commercial, nothing distracting, just a simple hill, where children saw the gift of the presence Mary.
There is one thing that Kibeho has that Fatima and Loudes do not have, one of the living witnesses of the apparitions. Alphonsina lives in a little house near the school yard where Mary first came to her. With Fr. Michael, my guide, we had the privilege of sitting in her house, and talking with her about the apparitions.
I should say rather, Fr. Michael talked to her. For whatever reason, he did not feel the need to translate for me. The two of them just talked, and I sat.
And I loved just sitting there. I was sitting in front of someone who has seen Mary. I didn’t understand a word, but didn’t have to. It was extremely peaceful. Most of those who have had the privilege of seeing Mary have become Saints within the Catholic Church. They are the likes of Bernadette, and Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. Here I was, listening to a woman given a similar gift as these blessed ones. I have to admit, I felt like a little kid, not understanding exactly what I was hearing, but in awe of the gift she has been given.
When Mary appears, she usually has a message. Fr. Michael was able to ask her exactly what happened, and what that message really was. She told Fr. Michael that when Mary appeared, she came and stood above the children about 3 meters (nine feet) and talked to them in a very gentle, soft voice. She told them to pray that others will remember to keep the sixth commandment. (Don’t kill anyone… if, by chance, you have forgotten)
In retrospect, it seems clear to us that Mary was trying to bring consolation to a country that was about to face one of the worst massacres in human history. She was asking for prayer that the Rwandan genocide might be blotted out.
Her warnings were not heeded.
The genocide came, and in the process, Anathalia, the first to whom May appeared in Kibeho, was killed. In fact, Kibeho is noted for having some of the most intense killings of the genocide, with 20,000 reported deaths. Although I did not witness the memorial in Kibeho, it is known to be the most graphic memorial of the genocide. As a memorial, lye was thrown on the bodies of the massacred to preserve them in their decay. You can still see the bones of the victims in the positions in which they were raped, tortured, and beheaded. You can still smell the decay of flesh.
I would have liked to have seen the memorial, but for myself, I was gently decorated in a glow of contentedness by just resting in Alphonsina’s presence. If I’ve learned anything about deeply spiritual people, it is that they have an aura of peace that surrounds them. When we were about to leave, Fr. Michael had yet to tell me a single thing about the apparitions or Alphonsina, but I had the urge to ask one question.
“Alphonsina. What language does Mary speak in?”
Fr. Michael translated my question and Alphonsina replied, “Kirwandan.”
It is good to know that Mary is multi-lingual.
After my pilgrimage to Kibeho, Fr. Michael met with a friend of his, and there he told both of us about his conversation with Alphonsina. His friend asked, “But if Mary appeared to Anathalia, why did she die in the genocide?”
“Seeing Mary doesn’t give you special rights or powers in this world, it just means that you are a messenger. People didn’t listen to the message. Anathalia was human, just like anyone else. She was killed. Just that simple.” Fr. Michael responds.
“Of course!” I replied, “I mean… look at Jesus… Mary appeared to him SEVERAL times while he was alive, and that didn’t seem to keep him from being killed!”
Their laughter at my dry insight betrays a certain truth, I’ve been on pilgrimage a long time.
But what made us laugh is the fact that it is true, God does not give us special graces to make us superheroes, merely messengers of his word.
I’m sure that Mary pleaded that Jesus not be killed. It is a simple request. Don’t kill. Why do we keep thinking that we can get around it with our ridiculous justifications?
Anathalia and 100,000 others died by people who believed they were justified in their killing. Jesus died by the hands of those who believed that they were justified in their killing.
These kinds of things wouldn’t happen if we would listen to our mother.