She snaked through the crowd of pilgrims waving at them as Catholic Church authorities protected her from many people who wanted to embrace her.
This was the mood when church service came to an end at Kibeho during the celebrations of Assumption Day on Wednesday last week as Nathalie Mukamazimpaka tried to leave the crowded Kibeho Holy Land.
The land was declared holy by the Catholic Church in 2001. Mukamazimpaka is one of the three young ladies whose tales are behind the declaration. The Virgin Mary had appeared before them in 1981 with a message for Rwandans to repent otherwise they would be befallen by calamity.
The Catholic Church has endorsed the apparition and Mary is referred to as the Queen of Kibeho.
How it started
These unusual phenomena began on November 28, 1981 at Groupe Scolaire Marie Merci of Kibeho where the three girls studied.
When she was in senior four, Nathalie Mukamazimpaka felt unwell and sought permission to go to the dormitory to rest. Little did she know that it was her time to meet a mother; the Virgin Mary.
“It was about 4:30pm when I was in the dormitory. I was on my bed praying and I saw the image of a beautiful lady from the sunset, she came and when she was about four meters above, she stopped and called my name: “Nathalie my daughter, pray hard, pray hard, pray hard for the world is in danger,” the now 54-year-old Mukamazimpaka recalls.
“I felt I was no longer on the bed but rather on a green garden; I knelt down to pray. The lady told me to stick to heavenly things as the ones on earth were of a short period and will perish. She told me that I will suffer a lot in my life and asked me to pray. I said more prayers and she blessed me before she disappeared.
The first day was not only confusing for Mukamazimpaka but also a period of mockery from her colleagues when she revealed her vision.
The lady who had appeared to her did not identify herself at first and told her she would do so when she came back.
“When the students came in the dormitory, they also laughed at me and wondered whether I also witnessed the apparitions,” she said adding that she had nothing to tell them then.
Besides the school management was also in a total confusion. Maybe they didn’t want to cause chaos among the students or as a church run facility, they thought it could be more of an illusion than vision.
“Even my other colleague who had witnessed the apparition a month before could not understand the meaning. But what they knew from the first appearance was that it was the Virgin Mary who had identified herself as the Mother of the Word (Nyina wa Jambo).
But the school management wanted more clarifications or those who pretended to be talking to the Virgin Mary could be expelled.
The first apparition to Mukamazimpaka came days after she had appeared to her colleague, Alphonsine Mumureke. It happened when she was in a dining room serving lunch to other students. The third to see the apparition was Marie Claire Mukangango. The teens were all below 18.
The message to the three young girls was in order to avoid a horrible war, they had to convert, pray, seek penance and fast, among others. Otherwise horrible moments awaited the country and the world should the message be disobeyed.
Mukamazimpaka with Bishop Celestin Hakizimana. Jean d’Amour Mbonyinshuti .
The Holy Mary appears again
According to the Catholic Church, the Virgin Mary appeared at Kibeho on November 28, 1981, and in the months that followed.
Mukamazimpaka said the Virgin Mary appeared to them several times; sometimes in public, sometimes in private.
She said that as she planned to go to bed, the beautiful image appeared again and identified herself as Mary, the Mother of the Word. The visits were chronologically registered.
“The second day at around 9:30 as we went to sleep, she came again and said: “Nathalie my child, don’t be afraid because it is the Mother of the Word (Nyina wa Jambo) who is talking”. I realised it was the Virgin Mary because she had also appeared to Alphonsine,” she says.
The Virgin Mary tasked the young girls with delivering the message they had been given to the rest of Rwandans and the world to change positively.
But they had to be different from the rest. They had to pray, to be together and to wait for the apparition of Mary to talk to them.
“Whenever she appeared to us we could see her as she delivered a message to us,
“The Virgin Mary could give us the appointment of her apparition so that we invite the public to come to listen to her prophecy. We could also inform the church and the public could be invited,” she says
Mukamazimpaka vividly remembers an incident none day on August 15 in 1982 when it was on Assumption Day. The Virgin Mary came is an angry mood, crying and prophesized horrible moments the country was going to go through.
“It was a public apparition and the place was installed with loud speakers and we wore microphone that we used to deliver the message to the public, she could talk to us and we spoke loudly” she says
The Virgin Mary showed threatening message on that day, the visionary young girls saw images of people killing others, rivers of blood flowing, mass graves, body parts of people lying on the ground, among others.
Thousands of people who attended heard the horrible message. The Virgin Mary was crying, wondering why we didn’t love one another, why we killed each other. We did not understand the message at first but we later understood it when the Genocide broke out,” she added.
Mukamazimpaka faces temptations
Mukamazimpaka personally faced some of temptations to test her if she could be a messenger of the Virgin Mary. She had to drop out of school, pray hard and fast for longer periods of time.
“The specific message to me from Mary was to pray a lot for the world and the dead bodies in purgatory and accept to endure pain praying for changes but remain in Kibeho until she decided otherwise,” she says
She particularly told me about the pain I would undergo. I dropped out in S4 and I would always fall sick and I went through many temptations.” she says.
Mukamazimpaka requested for the place where she could fast and pray. She had committed to pray hard and remain in contact with Mary and wanted to fulfil the orders from her.
Fasting for two weeks, praying from the forest
“I spent 14 days in fasting and I could only survive on the Holy Communion served by the priests that was another severe temptation, I could feel hungry, exhausted and I extremely lost weight,” she says
“I also had to pray in a forest the Virgin Mary had shown me and I had to be there during the night from 9pm to 11pM, I prayed from there for a month and lived badly. I used to meet a leopard in the forest for the whole month and it never scared me, that was another temptation,” she notes
But the Virgin Mary had assured her that all the temptations she was going through were only to strengthen her other than scaring her.
Another temptation the three girls went through was from the colleagues with whom they studied together.
According to the witnesses, whenever apparitions occurred, the girls were never in a normal mood. Sometimes, they became too silent, sometimes they could be seen lying down still, unmoving and for long time.
“Students would come to us touch on our eyes, hit us to see whether we were experiencing apparitions,” Mukamazimpaka remembers.
Catholic Church launches investigations on apparitions, declares Kibeho a holy land
Following several reports on apparitions and the messages that were being delivered then, the Catholic Church became interested and wanted to prove the authenticity of the young girls’ visions.
Two study commissions, one of doctors and one of theologians, were immediately set up by the local Bishop. The work started in April 1982, according to Church officials.
It took about 20 years to declare the place as a Holy Land by the Catholic Church after the church assigned commissions to study more about the apparitions.
Dr Venant Ntabomvura who was a medical doctor then was among of the team that was assigned to study the authenticity of the three girls’ visions, especially their ability to do what other people could not do.
According to Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA)’s television, Ntabomvura supervised the fasting of Mukamazimpaka and proved that she had spent all 14 days without eating.
“I wanted to prove the authenticity of this and I asked for permission to have a team of supervisors (to ensure if she could not eat,” he said.
“The team I took even included Protestants. I asked them to supervise every step of her, those who entered and left her room. I asked them to note every step,” said the medical doctor during an interview with RBA two years ago.
Mukamazimpaka’s life today
Mukamazimpaka lives like a nun as she considers herself a daughter of the Church.
“The Virgin Mary told us to always pray and strive for a positive change, we keep propagating the message and we work with the Catholic Church. I live here at the parish and serve God in my capacity. My main responsibility is to pray for Rwandans and the world in general, I also engage in other physical works to keep physically fit,” she told this reporter.
“I have never thought of leaving Kibeho because it is the order of the Mother of the Word and cannot think of pursuing studies or getting married. Even before I witnessed the apparitions, I had considered being a nun,” she says
Mukamazimpaka is happy that the message from the Virgin Mary through her and her two colleagues has reached far.
“Our prayer is that the world should listen to the message of the Virgin Mary and heed her advice and change for good. We are happy that Kibeho is now a Holy Land and thousands flock it every time to seek blessings. We hope that the world will be better thanks to the prayers,” she added
According to the Bishop of Gikongoro Diocese, Célestin Hakizimana, the message delivered by Mary through the three young girls was proven authentic and Christians should spread it all over the world.