Kibeho is a small site located in the southern part of Rwanda, in the administrative district of Nyaruguru. It is 36 km from the Bishop of Gikongoro’s residence and 30 km from the Bishop of Butare’s residence. Kibeho is also the name given to one of the parishes of the diocese of Gikongoro, founded in 1934 and dedicated to Mary, Mother of God.
Today, Kibeho is best known as a place of apparitions and pilgrimages. The first apparition of Mary was on November 28, 1981, when Alphonsine Mumureke, a young student of the Kibeho High School, saw a lady of incomparable beauty who presented herself under the name of “Nyina Wa Jambo,” which means “Mother of the Word.” Alphonsine immediately recognized her as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Our Savior Jesus. The phenomenon occurred subsequently and several times in succession, at long or short intervals. The Virgin asked everybody to convert, to keep faith and to pray without hypocrisy.
Alphonsine was born on March 21, 1965, in Cyizihira, in the parish of Zaza, Diocese of Kibungo. Her parents were Thaddée Gakwaya and Mary Immaculate Mukagasana. She was baptized when she was 12 years old, on July 27 1977. At the time of the apparitions, she had just been admitted to the Kibeho High School in October, 1981, immediately after her primary studies. The Kibeho High School, founded in 1967 by a parish priest, Father Grégoire Kamugisha, has changed its name several times in order to conform to the programs of the National Education Ministry. When Alphonsine was admitted in 1981, it was called Kibeho High school; and later, since 1984, “Ecole des Lettres de Kibeho” (Kibeho School of the Letters), and nowadays, since 1998, “Groupe Scolaire Mère du Verbe” (Mother of the Word High school).
The first reactions caused by these unusual events within the community of the Kibeho High School as well as outside of the high school were not temperate. There were a lot of points of view that ranged from skepticism that feared trickery to unswaying belief and intolerance of any skepticism. At the beginning, Alphonsine was viewed as a mad girl, or an unhappy girl possessed by evil; or, according to some, as a mediocre student wanting to play a prank to make her more accepted in the school conducted by the Congregation of Benebikira Sisters (i.e., Daughters of the Virgin Mary).
Many people begged for signs of credibility. At the time of the ecstasies, students and teachers were free to apply tests on the body of Alphonsine in order to check and to verify her sincerity. It was even suggested that if it was really the Blessed Virgin Mary who had visited the school, they would take it seriously, if she at least appeared to other students instead of just that poor Alphonsine from Gisaka, a region which had a reputation for the practice of magic. Alphonsine asked the Virgin to respond to the challenge by appearing to others and exhorted her schoolmates also to ask her for themselves to receive necessary enlightenment.
A short time later, two new alleged seers appeared in the high school, one after the other, and in close proximity to Alphonsine: notably Nathalie Mukamazimpaka on January 12, 1982, and Marie Claire Mukangango on March 2, 1982.
Nathalie Mukamazimpaka was born in 1964 in Munini in the present district of Nyaruguru, parish of Muganza, Diocese of Gikongoro. Her father was Laurent Ngango and her mother, Gaudence Mukabaziga. She was baptized on February 2, 1968, when she was 4 years old. During the time of the apparitions, she was registered in the Kibeho High school in the 4th class of the Teaching school. As a seer of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Nathalie is especially known for the message of redemptive suffering and unceasing prayer for a world that is very bad and at risk of falling into an abyss.
Since March 2, 1982, Marie Claire Mukangango, schoolmate of Nathalie, declared herself as a seer of the Virgin Mary. Her case was like a bomb exploding inside the high school community, because until then Marie Claire was characterized by her fierce opposition to the “so-called” apparitions claimed by Alphonsine.
Marie Claire was born in 1961 in Rusekera, in the present district of Nyamagabe, parish of Mushubi, diocese of Gikongoro. Her father was Baseka and her mother Véronique Nyiratuza. She was baptized when she was 5 years old, on August 12, 1966. During the apparitions, she studied at the Kibeho High school, in 4th class of the Teaching school. As a seer, she is especially known for the message of the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, associated with an urgent call to repentance: “Repent, repent, repent!” the Virgin said to the world through the lips by Marie Claire.
If, for some, the increased number of the seers complicated the disconcerting situation created by Alphonsine, for others, the two new cases, especially the one of Marie Claire, were interpreted as a good sign coming from heaven to show that the prayer of Alphonsine had been accepted and to sustain the faith of all those that were still hesitating to take her apparitions seriously. Different witnesses interrogated in the Kibeho High School in 1982, declared that they began to believe in the apparitions after the extraordinary experience of Marie Claire. In short, the public opinion tried to find a natural explanation for the phenomenon, but without success, considering a great number of astonishing facts that were confirmed as the days passed that defied simple human understanding.
In spite of the critics and objections of all sorts against the apparitions, a movement of belief began to develop quickly enough inside and outside of Kibeho High School. Before the Christmas holidays of 1981, a group of “converted” students and teachers appeared at a regular prayer meeting with Alphonsine, where they recited the rosary accompanied by hymns in the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
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But, after May 1982, the phenomenon of the apparitions took on a new dimension when is was spreading like a brush fire outside the Kibeho High school to reach the primary school and the surrounding hills, and even the more remote locations. However, it is astonishing that the number of seers inside the high school spontaneously stopped for all three, without any outside intervention by human authority. On the other hand, the number of new alleged seers kept on increasing outside of the high school in a disturbing way. Later, after July 1982, there was even a question of alleged apparitions of Jesus; that was seven months after the first apparitions of the Virgin Mary. But, after some time, the alleged seers of Jesus who became well known to the pilgrims of Kibeho ended up developing in a troubling way that discredited them.
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Another fact to be emphasized is that on the days of public apparitions, the seers experienced practically no ecstasies. The seers experienced the apparitions individually, one at a time, while the others seers were watching along with everyone else in the crowd. These apparitions varied in duration, depending on the occurrence, and they were usually marked by heavy falls at the end of the apparition.
The apparitions were also characterized by an abundance of words, the length of the ecstasies, songs, prayers of intercession, blessings (especially by means of water), repeated falls during the same apparition on certain days (from August 15, 1982 until the end of Lent in 1983), and other mortifications. Lent of 1983 was in particular characterized by extraordinary fasting that was closely monitored by a team of physicians from the National University of Rwanda.
Alphonsine Mumureke is said to have taken, on March 20, 1982, a “mystical journey” of several hours with the Virgin in another “world” throughout “places” that she describes in symbolic language that makes one think of realities such as Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but with a vocabulary very different from the one of the Catechism. Nathalie Mukamazimpaka had a similar experience on October 30, 1982, which was closely observed by a team from the Bishop’s theological commission.
The apparitions of Kibeho had very early on attracted crowds of people. On certain days, like May 30, 1982 for example, the crowd could be estimated at more than 10,000 people of all ages and all social classes. However it is true that this public gathering stayed a long time; because there were not only pilgrims coming for reasons of faith and piety, but there were probably also a crowd of curious people who were merely in search of an easy miracle. The situation defused itself gradually.
The time of significant apparitions ended practically with the year 1983, during which most of the alleged seers then known by the public, left the scene, one after the other, declaring that the apparitions were finished for them.
After 1984, only some secondary alleged seers coming late on the scene had public apparitions on predicable dates and at very occasional intervals, but without original or new contribution to the message of Kibeho.
The apparitions of Kibeho officially ended on November 28, 1989, a date on which Alphonsine, who was at the beginning of these events, experienced the Virgin’s last apparition in public. She specified that she would not have any more apparitions publicly. This meaningful fact, which was introduced 8 years after the Virgin’s first apparition at Kibeho, is recognized as an important historical reference for anybody who would like to know what happened and form a judgment on it. This date of November 28, 1989, is kept by the ecclesiastical authority as the time-limit for the occurrence of these phenomena.
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The length of the apparitions of Kibeho was remarkably long. A lot of words were said, and a lot of facts, more or less mysterious, were introduced with the passing years. But the phenomenon of the proliferation of the alleged seers in the region of Kibeho and throughout the whole country had a damaging effect for a lot of pilgrims, as well for the people officially in charge, in following closely the evolution of these events. So, on November 28, 1982, one year after the first apparition to Alphonsine, the alleged seers listed in the file of the investigation commissions already numbered 14; and on November 28, 1983, there were 33! Most of them were girls. Some claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary; others, her Son Jesus; and a third group, the Virgin or Jesus, depending on the day. In short, the situation had become very confusing.
In most of the cases, a willingness to believe or an excess “religious” respect towards the alleged seers seems to have contributed to the proliferation of seers. Some of them were even seen circulating in some regions of the country spreading messages without the consent of ecclesiastical authority. Thus they left their own families to go to make themselves guests in some religious households; from there, sometimes they went to Kibeho for designated times for the apparition, or to harass religious and civil authorities, bringing to them the alleged messages, which they claimed were received from heaven. But very often these messages were for many people only repetitions of the disturbing and disconcerting predictions.
There were some of others who claimed to have been charged by Jesus or by the Virgin Mary with a special mission to go and announce their message abroad, especially in the neighboring countries, even in foreign places like Rome, Canada, etc. In this matter, His Eminence Jean Baptiste Gahamanyi, the Bishop of the diocese of Butare in which Kibeho belonged until1992, thought it useful to specify in his pastoral Letter of July 20, 1986 that, “the events of Kibeho were still under scrutiny, and that it was out of the question for him, as ‘Ordinary of the place,’ to give anyone of the visionaries any kind of mission in relation to these events, nor to allow anyone to consider themselves as a guarantor of the messages allegedly coming from heaven, even if certain formulations were good or heart-moving.” The Ordinary of the place targeted the cases of improvised “missionary” seers or itinerant preachers. This position has been affirmed by His Eminence Augustin Misago, Bishop of Gikongoro since 1992, and it remains definitive.
On several occasions, the Ordinary of the place called on the common sense of Christians and on the common sense of the faith to make a good discernment vis-à-vis all kinds of people who appeared or even began circulating almost everywhere pretending to have supernatural visions or to be bearers of particular messages coming from heaven. In the light of certain signs, a number of pilgrims to Kibeho learned to know, in fact, to discern little by little some seers who, in their eyes, deserved to be heard; and many others who rather appeared suspect or even false in various ways.