Father Pawlowski often kneels before Our Lady of Kibeho. Then, as he admits somewhat hesitantly, ‘I entrust myself to her tender maternal care. I ask her to help me be still more faithful to my vocation here, so that Kibeho can grow and Mary can lead all these people along the path of reconciliation.’

Kibeho in southern Rwanda is the first Marian apparition site in Africa to have been officially recognised by the Church. Pallotine Father Zbigniew Pawlowski is the Rector of the Shrine. It was here, between 1981 and 1989 that Our Lady appeared to three local girls.

Two of the three are still alive today. One visionary, Alphonsine, now lives in a convent in Italy, another, Nathalie, lives at the shrine itself. The third seer, Marie-Claire, was murdered during the massacres in 1994, which Our Lady had already prophesied with tears.

The killing did not spare Kibeho either, but today it is a place of healing for wounded souls. By now the shrine sees more than 600,000 pilgrims each year. They come from many different countries, including even Europe and the Americas.

And there are more and more of them each year. Even now the infrastructure is inadequate to receive them all. ‘But they must all be able to come, for there are miracles of reconciliation and conversion that happen here.’

Many of the pilgrim groups include former murderers, ‘who have been released from jail and now stand together with others who only just escaped the massacres at the time. Now they stand together before Our Lady and pray for reconciliation.’ Kibeho is a wellspring of graces for a traumatised society.

‘Our Lady comforts them all.’ There was even a bishop who came from Mexico, crushed by the murderous drug wars in his diocese, to beg Our Lady of Sorrows for help. Soon afterwards, the biggest drug boss was captured. And just as in Lourdes, Fatima, Czestochowa and other renowned shrines, again and again there are healings of the sick.

More and more families are coming too. Many childless couples come, asking for the grace of fertility, and not infrequently ‘we afterwards get messages about the birth’. Our Lady also predicted that the family as an institution would suffer.

Yet the charism of Kibeho is also ‘the message of perseverance. The world is in a bad way – that is what Mary told us during those eight years, through the three girls. And the suffering is not over yet. That is why we must pray still more.’

And this is exactly what Father Pawlow ski has been doing, for twelve years now, together with the other Pallottine Fathers and Religious Sisters. And that is what they also say to the growing throng of pilgrims.

The Blessed Virgin introduced herself to the three girls as ‘Nyina wa Jambo’, as ‘Mother of the Word’. She told Nathalie, ‘Stay close to me. People and things pass away. But as for you, pray. Pray much, so that you can stand firm.’ Her words apply to us all.

As for Father Pawlowski, his ‘fervent wish’ is that he can welcome more pilgrims ‘in this place of reconciliation and forgiveness’. But to do this the facilities of the shrine need to be extended and the number of guest rooms increased.Prayer needs more space’. This is where we can help.

This article can be found in Mirror 0715.