WHEN THE ASSUMPTION Day mass ended in Kibeho, Nyaruguru District, Bernardo Munyaneza emerged from the crowd smiling.
With a Bible and an image of the Virgin Mary, the resident of Simbi Sector in Huye District could not hide his excitement.
“I love coming here,” he said, as he made his way from the place of worship along with thousands of catholic believers who had attended mass.
It is Friday, August 15, the day the Catholic Church celebrates the ascension to heaven of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ or simply Assumption Day.
Every year on this day, thousands of pilgrims travel from around the world to attend a special mass that is celebrated on the grounds where the Virgin Mary appeared to three school girls in the early 1980s.
Munyaneza is one of those who have pledged to come here regularly.
“I come here at least thrice a year. I believe it is an occasion to meet God and be closer to Him,” the elderly man said.
“Whenever I conclude my prayers, I feel strangely happy and that keeps me confident that God is with me,” he added with a smile.
Munyaneza told The New Times he walks from his home village, deep in Huye District, to Kibeho ‘because it helps me pray along the way.”
“It is not because I can’t afford transport but rather walking helps me to pray as I come to interact with God and address my woes to the Virgin Mary,” Munyaneza said.
But he is not the only one who loves to pray from the Kibeho Holy land. Thousands of other believers flocked to the grounds of Mary Mother of the Word to share the joy of Assumption.
Dismas Nzabimana travelled from Muyinga in Burundi to be part of the Assumption Day prayers in Kibeho.
It was his first time to be here.
“I had heard of the apparitions that occurred here and I made it a pledge to make a pilgrimage here,” he said.
“Now that I have accomplished it, I feel relieved and am confident I have been blessed.”
Be peace makers
Over 30, 000 people are said to have participated in the Mass at Kibeho, a celebration that was marked with prayers for nations torn apart by war, including South Sudan, Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq and Israel and Palestine.
A special petition was particularly made to God to help countries struggling with the deadly Ebola virus.
Ebola has claimed 1, 069 people, mainly in the West African states of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. There have been futile efforts to contain its spread so far.
A medical charity, MSF warned Friday that Ebola epidemic is moving faster than the authorities can handle and could take six months to bring under control.
The World Health Organisation also admitted this week that the scale of the epidemic had been vastly underestimated, calling for “extraordinary measures” to contain the killer disease.
Christians said countries around the world, including Rwanda, should step up measures to contain the epidemic.
The International Olympics Committee said athletes from Ebola-hit countries had been barred from competing in pool events and combat sports at the Youth Olympics which open today in China, according to media reports.
The believers also prayed for prosperity, unity and peace.
While delivering his sermon, Monsignor Philippe Rukamba, the Bishop of Butare Diocese, called upon Christians to emulate Mary’s way of living, which he said was characterised by sacrifice, love, humility and faith.
He told them that they should “change and pray” for humanity and seek righteous ways.
Bishop Rukamba told the faithful that Mary should teach them to forgive and always champion peace within their lives, families and community.
“The Virgin Mary is the Queen of peace and unity. We should all strive to live peacefully with others, both in our families or communities,” Bishop Rukamba said.
“She reminds us that we must be a people that seek peace in all we do.”
He challenged them to love each other and avoid anything that might harm their relationship with others.
“Take the joy and blessings you have got from here to your families and communities. Let your lives reflect the good and be a testimony of your faith and obedience to God,” Bishop Rukamba said.