RWANDA: Church Silent, Government Downplays Controversial Statement on Arrest of Pilgrims to Kibeho

By Arnold Neliba

KIGALI, AUGUST 29, 2023 (CISA)-The Catholic Church in Rwanda is yet to comment on the threats by Rwanda President Paul Kagame to round up anyone who engages in the annual Catholic pilgrimage to Kibeho Shrine on November 28.

President Kagame termed the annual event as  “worshipping poverty” threatening to arrest those who take part in the pilgrimage if it happens again.

“No one must worship poverty. Do not ever do that again… If I ever hear about this again, that people travelled to go and worship poverty, I will bring trucks and round them up and imprison them, and only release them when the poverty mentality has left them,” said Kagame in an address to a youth conference on August 23 as reported by AFP.

“I thought that when you pray, you are praying so that you can help improve your lives, praying to get rich and get out of poverty,” the president who is also a Catholic had said.

It is at the Kibeho shrine in the Catholic Diocese of Gikongoro in Rwanda that it is believed that the Virgin Mary appeared to three high school girls four decades ago, on November 28, 1981. Annually, pilgrims from all walks of life visit the site where they worship and receive Holy Communion. Pilgrims travel from across the world to the shrine.

The first Marian apparitions at Kibeho occurred in 1981 and were recognized by the Church in 2001. The site has since become a popular place of pilgrimage for Catholics from all over the world, hoping for a miracle or healing.

According to Rwanda government spokesperson, Yolande Makolo, the President could have been referring to other sites.

“In his address at the youth event, President Kagame did not at any point mention a specific pilgrimage site, and certainly not Kibeho. What he was most likely referring to is an informal pilgrimage-type event that takes place in the Rutsiro district, and the point was to encourage young Rwandans to be ambitious and work hard, instead of getting caught up in cult-like rituals,” said Yolande.

Located South of Rwanda, Kibeho also bears scars of the 1994 Rwandan genocide where thousands of unarmed civilians were killed by soldiers at the Kibeho Internally Displaced Persons Camp (IDP).