The Creation of the Statue of Our Lady of Kibeho, Mother of The Word

OLK15During the time of the apparitions, commissions of study didn’t overlook posing some questions to each of the alleged seers about the identity of the heavenly person they were claiming to see: Who appears to you? How does she come or leave? What does she look like? How does she behave? How does she stand? How does she speak? Does she make any gestures? How does she move? What does the place of the meetings look like? In short, at the request of the members of the commissions, every seer was trying to describe the apparition, but with a lot of effort.

1) The work of the artists

After his Declaration of June 29, 2001, His Eminence Augustin Misago launched, in September 2001, the first competition of famous artists to conceive a design for a statue of Our Lady of Kibeho according to the characteristics given by the recognized seers. For this effort, the Bishop made available a note titled “Apparitions of Kibeho: a portrait of the Virgin Mary,” developed from the commissions’ study reports. Unfortunately, after some attempts, the team of artists did not manage to achieve a satisfying model. Nathalie didn’t hide her disappointment and her protests.

One year later, on October 22, 2002, another competition was organized. The realization of the project was proposed to three groups of artists: a) Jean Marie Vianney Kabakera and Jean d’Amour Tuyisenge (from Kabgayi); b) Jean Pierre Sibomana and Faustin Kayitana (from Ruhengeri); c) Emmanuel Hakizimana (from Kigali). All were former students of the School of Arts of Nyundo; one or the other would even have been teacher in this school.

Over a period of several weeks, these artists managed to produce 3 models of a statue of Our Lady of Kibeho in baked clay measuring about 60 cm. They could at any time consult Nathalie Mukamazimpaka, the only seer living in the place, because the two other were not available for different reasons: Alphonsine was living in Abidjan (Còte d’Ivoire), while Marie Claire was already dead.

At the request of the Bishop of Gikongoro, Father Leszek Czelusniak, MIC, of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, accepted responsibility for the coordination of the groups of artists. Of course, the task was not at all easy for them, because they were not free to make whatever they wanted. They had to follow the input from Nathalie. But, even the seers themselves never hid their great embarrassment at not being able to find adequate language to describe the heavenly person who appeared to them.

On January 11, 2003, a selection team was established, composed of experts familiar with the religious arts: they had to choose the best model. The members of this team were: Mr. Jean Baptiste Sebukangaga, a famous professional sculptor from Butare; Fr. Paul Bourgois, Missionary of Africa and former member of the Commission for the Apparitions of Kibeho; Miss Maria Utler, photographer of Butare in the Bishop’s residence; Sister Césaria of the Community of the Little Sisters of Jesus from Rango, a sister who produces statues made of clay; Mgr. Jean Marie Vianney Gahizi, professor of Philosophy at the Senior Seminary of Kabgayi, artist; Fr. Joseph Emmanuel Kageruka, chancellor of the diocese of Kabgayi, artist; and the Fr. Leszek Czelusniak, MIC of the Marian Fathers’ Congregation, photographer, painter, and promoter of Marian devotion. Nathalie Mukamazimpaka, one of the three seers of Kibeho present in the country, was associated with the whole process but as a consultant.  In the same way, a group of reflection for the Shrine of Kibeho was established on November 21, 2002.

The team, presided over by the Ordinary of the place, met for the first time on February 8, 2003, in the Bishop of Gikongoro’s residence. After a long debate in which the seer Nathalie was engaged, the team chose the best statue among the three models presented to be reworked seriously.

The group of artists from Ruhengeri (Jean Pierre Sibomana and Faustin Kayitana) won the competition. They started to work on improving the statue taking into account the remarks expressed on the one hand by the team and on the other hand by the seer Nathalie. After one month of work, they presented a new model of the Virgin of Kibeho. Once more, the team made several remarks for improving the statue, especially the symbolism of the flowers.

Meanwhile, in May 2003, Fr. Leszek took the initiative to commission in Rome a colored wooden statue on the basis of this model. In June and July 2003, Faustin Kayitana, an artist from Ruhengeri, made a new statue in clay, in light of two existing models. He especially worked more on the motif of flowers and on the proportions. The model was presented to the team in Kibeho on August 7, 2003, for approval. The team presided over by the Ordinary of the place, adopted the model definitively in spite of persistent imperfections: no statue of the Holy Virgin can claim to be a perfect copy of her portrait. It is just a symbol. It was also decided to make the sculpture in Europe, in a well-equipped workshop, the same statue being 1.20m high and made of special and colorful wood. This work of reproduction and revising was given to a Polish artist, Marc Kowalski, a teacher in the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He began the sculpture in September 2003, and completed it on November 21, 2003. The statue was sent with urgency to Rwanda by plane because one week later, November 28, 2003, there was the blessing and enthronement of this statue in the Shrine of Kibeho. In the future, other artists will be able to reproduce other models of it for dissemination.

2) Some characteristics of the statue:

According to the note of the Bishop mentioned above (“Apparitions of Kibeho, a portrait of the Virgin Mary”), the place of the meetings is described by the seers as very beautiful and like paradise. The Virgin stands up, but she is standing on nothing; she seems to be floating! After some time, however, each of the seers began to see her in the middle of a field of different kinds of flowers for which the Virgin asks for water. After some time, the seers and the crowds of pilgrims ended up realizing that the flowers, which were in various states of freshness, actually symbolized human beings, especially the crowds in Kibeho, as they are generally in front of God and the message of Kibeho delivered by the Virgin. Also the “fields of the flowers” expands; we can deduce from this the “conversions” that increase the size of the field. For this reason, the flowers among which Mary floats constitute one of the distinctive symbols of the statue of Our Lady of Kibeho.

The Holy Virgin appeared as an incomparably beautiful and captivating Lady. The color of her skin was neither white nor black nor mulatto; it was between the two. Besides, they could only see her face and the hands, while the rest of her body was hidden by her clothes. According to Nathalie, the Virgin was dressed into two colors: a white dress, and a wide blue-sky veil that took the shape of a cape going down behind up to the feet. Usually, her feet and toes are invisible because of the dress and veil that cover them. The Virgin usually holds her hands together on her chest and pointing toward her chin; her head slightly tilted like a mother looking with tenderness at her child standing in front of her. Nathalie claims to have seen her with open arms and her hands open reaching toward the earth. In sculpting the statue, they opted for the pose with her joined hands.

The seer Marie Claire Mukangango claimed to have received some revelations on the rosary of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin likes this rosary. Known in the past, it had fallen into oblivion. Our Lady of Kibeho wants it to be put back in favor and spread in the Church. For this reason, the Virgin of Kibeho carries this rosary hanging on her joined hands.

The day of November 28, 2003, the twenty-second anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s first apparition in Kibeho, was especially marked by the blessing and the enthronement of the model of Our Lady of Kibeho statue. Of course, this statue is not a photograph of the Virgin “Nyina wa Jambo” (Mother of the Word), as we would have wished it to be; it is simply an artistic creation made by human hands. There is neither life nor divine power in it. It is only a symbol intended to excite out hearts to rise toward the heavenly realities and to contemplate the one to whom this symbol points.

In his homily, His Eminence Augustin Misago recalled the following: “According to the teachings always relevant of the Council of Trent, especially in its session of 1563, the Church recommends to the Christians to possess and to honor, in the Churches and in the families, the statues and the pictures of our Lord Jesus Christ, those of the Virgin Mary and saints.

“According to the same Council, if we venerate these images, it is not because they carry in them a divine power that would bring us to offer them the sacrifices or prayers like pagans used to do with their idols (Ps 135, 18). Truly, we venerate in them those who they represent, that means Jesus Christ or the saints. This teaching must be unceasingly given to the Christian so that they don’t fall into traps of idolatry”.

Hence, Kibeho with its message, its Shrine, and its statue of Our Lady–Mother of the Word, entered in the history of the Church. And now, everyday, we are going to write a new page of marvels of God in honor of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word, in this place chosen by her forever.