Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

A statue of Mary situated atop a pole marks the site where three young students witnessed an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Kibeho, Rwanda, in the early 1980s. In June 2001, after years of investigation, a Rwandan bishop confirmed the apparitions saying, “There are more reasons to believe than deny it.” MARCO LONGARI | CNS

Honoring Our Lady of Kibeho during Black Catholic History Month


November is Black Catholic History Month, which was designated to celebrate the long history and proud heritage of Black Catholics by the National Black Clergy Caucus on July 24, 1990. This month was selected due to two commemorative dates: St. Augustine’s birthday on Nov. 13, and St. Martin de Porres’ feast day on Nov. 3. November is also when Catholics celebrate the feasts of All Saints and All Souls – an occasion to recall in a special way the saints and souls of Africa, and the African Diaspora, who were lost enroute and after arriving as slaves in the Americas.

On Nov. 28 we also celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Kibeho, the only Vatican-approved Marian apparitions in Africa which occurred in Kibeho, Rwanda. Our Lady first appeared to a young schoolgirl, Alphonsine, first on Nov. 28, 1981. As a result, she was ridiculed, called a liar, and accused of being possessed by demons by classmates and school staff. Alphonsine begged Our Mother to appear to another girl in the school. Subsequently, she appeared to Anathalie Mukamazimpaka and slowly, more people began to believe. Finally, she also appeared to Marie Claire, who had previously accused Alphonsine of being a witch.

When she first appeared, Mary called herself Nyina wa Jambo, “the Mother of the Word.” All three visionaries described her as the most beautiful woman radiating a warm, glowing, motherly love. Marie Claire said that she could describe her beauty; simply that “her beauty is as great as her love for her children.”

The message of Our Lady of Kibeho was a simple one of love and repentance. Love God and love others. Be kind to one another, pray sincerely, repent of your sins, be humble and forgive each other. She told the visionaries to pray the Rosary and particularly the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows.  She also showed the girls horrific visions of what would happen if people did not repent.

In 1994, the visions the three schoolgirls saw came to pass in the Rwandan Genocide. Over three months, up to a million Rwandans were killed by their neighbors, friends and even family members. Most of those killed were Tutsis, who were a minority that had been privileged under the previous Belgian colonial rule of Rwanda. But people from both groups, Tutsi, and Hutu, were killed. Kibeho itself was not spared. It was the site of a massacre where about 5,000 refugees were killed, some in the very church built to honor Our Lady of Kibeho. Among those killed at Kibeho was Marie Claire.  

But today, Kibeho has been restored. The shrine at Kibeho is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, a place of repentance, of peace and of healing for Rwanda and for all people.

F. Veronica Wilhite is the director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry.

Originally printed in the November 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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