As Rwanda seeks to expand its tourism destinations in order to increase both local and foreign tourism, a focus has been put on promoting religious tourism in areas that poses icons of religious significance in the country.
Rwanda, the ‘land of a thousand hills’ now seeks to expand its tourism sector by promoting apparitions witnessed in the Kibeho area located in the Southern province of Rwanda. Kibeho is a small village located in Nyaruguru District of the southern part of the country – at approximately 30 kilometers from Butare town
In this village, in 1981, the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, is said to have appeared to three local girls. The apparitions were formally later recognized by the Roman Catholic Church at the Vatican in 2001 after scrutinizing the results of two commissions made of doctors and theologians.
Since the apparitions were reported about three decades ago, Kibeho site attracts huge number of Pilgrims all over the world, who come to visit the site especially on the eve of Ascension Day- one of the few Catholic religious events that is recognized by the government of Rwanda.
Kibeho is known to be a place of apparitions and pilgrimage and has became a place of prayer for God seekers, who come to ask for the grace of conversion, to offer their intentions in reparation of the sins of the world, and to promote reconciliation between individuals, communities or nations.
Christians who attended the Kibeho event came from all corners of Rwanda, and were estimated between 25 to 35 thousands. Other Christians also came from countries like Poland, Uganda, RDC, Kenya and Burundi to join their Rwandan counterpart in the Christian event.
Among the many messages that the Virgin Mary passed on at Kibeho, was a chilling prophecy, a stark warning which sadly came true in the nineties when the Rwandan people suffered a horrible genocide against the Tutsi-in which a million people were killed.
Rwandan Catholics say that if the message of the Virgin Mary was taken seriously at the time, Rwanda wouldn’t have gone through the genocide era. However religious leaders have reminded Rwandans to take that message serious and work towards unity and reconciliation
Catholic faithful say that the message of the Virgin Mary is still valid and applicable to all people of all walks of life. The pilgrims say that they are however committed to promoting this message of repentance, unity and reconciliation in their respective communities.
As a way of marketing the Kibeho apparition and telling this Rwandan story to the rest of the world, a new documentary- “If We had only listened” God came down to warn us… has been released by Immaculee Ilibagiza and Sean Bloomfield.
Some readers like Michael H. Brown; SpiritDaily.com says it is “An in-depth look at one of history’s most fascinating apparitions—and truest prophecies—in history. A warning—a clarion call—to the whole world”
In a bid to promote Kibeho site visits annually, a trade fair was organized by the Private Sector Federation organized a Kibeho trade fair which is said to be an ideal option of promotion given the growing number of Pilgrims visiting the Kibeho Shrine. Currently, the number of Pilgrims ranges from 25,000-30,000. The Shrine is visited three times in a year.
An Indian tour operator, Ashly Burroughs, from Bangalore and visits the site; says that Kibeho is not yet known worldwide, but he is convinced that the message supposedly delivered by the Virgin Mary is of value to Catholics worldwide.
Accompanied by eight Indian tourists, he announced during a visit to the shrine that the company is now committed to make Kibeho’s history known and to encourage believers to come to visit the site.
“We are going to show that Rwanda is a beautiful country and full of touristic sites including Kibeho. We shall make CDs and documentaries explaining the message and the history of Kibeho, and the more people will know about Kibeho the more they will come,” he said.
Most of the visitors coming to Kibeho are Catholics who believe that visiting the place provides a blessing from the Virgin Mary. Libératha Kantarama, from Rusenge sector in nearby Nyaruguru, for instance, is one of them.
“If I come here with a serious problem it will be solved,” she said. “I once came here because I had a court case with a high personality. After I left, I met a person who agreed to be my lawyer free of charge; I don’t know who directed him to me, it was the fruit of my trip here.”
At the urging of Bishop Augustin Misago, of Gikongoro diocese, Rwanda, the Marians have built a presence in Kibeho to help insure the pilgrims there receive sound teachings about Mary to avoid any misinterpretation of the apparitions. The Marians have already helped many to understand Mary’s central message in Kibeho, which is one of prayer, penance, fasting, conversion, reconciliation, the importance of the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, and preparation for the return of Jesus.