Our Lady of Kibeho: Nyina wa Jambo (Mother of the Word)

August 20, 2013

ith the simple, softly spoken words, “Nyina wa Jambo,” the Virgin Mary would address the world from the heart of Africa beginning in 1981, first revealing herself to a Rwandan teenager as the “Mother of the Word.”

The apparitions of Our Lady of Kibeho in Rwanda, a nation made infamous 20 years ago by the horrific genocide of the Tutsi people, spanned three years between 1981 and 1983. They are the only Vatican-approved apparitions to occur in Africa. 

In her visits to three Catholic school girls, Mary urged believers to repentance, prayer and love. Her repeated messages to the young visionaries — Alphonsine Mumureke, Anathalie Mukamzimpaka and Marie Claire Mukangango — inspired a nation and also proved to be among her most prophetic. 

Like many visionaries, St. Bernadette and Sister Faustina Kowalski, among others, the three young women were thought by many to be either delusional or self-seeking misfits when the Virgin began appearing to them one by one starting Nov. 28, 1981. They were the targets of ridicule and harassment by their classmates and school faculty. 

The girls’ extraordinary visions were of the most beautiful woman they said they had ever seen, neither black nor white, who wore a blue veil and a white gown. She often appeared to be standing in a field of colorful flowers. 

During the visions, which always occurred to each separately, the girls would enter a deep trance. They often conversed and sang songs to Mary for hours. After the apparitions, they would collapse to the floor in ecstasy. Neither pinches, needle pokes nor shouting could rouse them.
Word spread quickly about the girls’ visions, and soon throngs of pilgrims began trekking to Kibeho — thousands by foot, through the chilly, rainy often road-less terrain of southwest Rwanda. 

Later, the girls were moved off the school grounds. A platform was built nearby where they would lead vigils and wait for the Virgin to appear. 
Many of the messages the girls received in conversations with the Blessed Mother were recorded and broadcast throughout Rwanda, drawing ever larger crowds to the rustic village. More people who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary and even Jesus came forward. 

While there were many reported visionaries at Kibeho, the Church has only declared the initial three as authentic, or worthy of belief, and also only the apparitions occurring between 1981 and 1983. The first visionary, Mumureke, claimed to have received visitations until 1989.

Among the reasons for approving the apparitions, the Bishop of the dioceses in which Kibeho parish is located, cited the simplicity and genuineness of the public dialogues with Mary, dialogues punctuated by eloquent expressions that would have been culturally and religiously foreign to the young women. 

He also noted the consistent, relevant and orthodox content of the messages, as well as the spiritual fruit borne from the apparitions. 
In the early 1980s, thousands of witnesses reported seeing miracles during the apparitions, such as rain falling on cloudless days and the sun dancing across the sky. There were also reports of healings, conversions and vocations to the religious life and priesthood.

In his declaration of approval, the Bishop of Gikongoro also cited the frightening visions received on Aug. 15, 1982, as evidence of the prophetic nature of Mary’s message.

In her messages that day, Mary warned the young visionaries about the impending genocide and showed the weeping, trembling girls images of the mass slaughter, the rivers of blood and bodies piled high that would occur if believers did not purge their hearts of hatred. 

Twelve years later, in the roughly 100 days between April and July of 1994, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis were murdered in ethnic cleansing that reduced the country’s population by nearly 20 percent. 

Thousands of Hutus were killed in the aftermath as well, many in a notorious slaughter in Kibeho. One of the visionaries, Mukangango, lost her life in the bloodshed. 

In her messages, Our Lady commissioned a chapel to be built at the site of the apparitions and bid the girls propagate the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, which was scarcely known of in Rwanda before then. 

Today, the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, which the bishop desired to become a place of conversions, reparations and a rallying point for “those who were dispersed,” as well as a place of the Gospel of the Cross, welcomes pilgrims from around the world.