By Brian Kelly
When Our Lady appeared to two Catholic girls in Rwanda from 1981-1984, she asked them to warn and exhort the faithful in her name to return to God, do penance, and recognize and confess their sins in order to avert a horrible chastisement to come. Mary also asked the girls to spread devotion to her holy rosary and to her chaplet of the Seven Sorrows. Her message, which has the approval of the local ordinary, Frederic Rubwejanga, Bishop of Kibungo, went unheeded. The tragedy, which the girls saw in their visions, was horrific. Come April 1994, the country was awash in carnage. The Hutu militia unleashed an inhuman rage on the Tutsi people and moderate Hutus. Eight hundred thousand people died in the one hundred worse days of the slaughter, with the international community doing nothing to intervene. Rwanda is about seventy percent Christian, and over fifty percent Catholic. Most of the victims were Catholic, but so were many of the murderers. It is a horribly tragic episode, having, as a secondary cause, much more to do with ethnicity and the elitism of the ruling Tutsi class than religion. However, priests and nuns were often principal targets of the rampaging Hutus, many of them killed inside their churches, which were also desecrated.
One of the survivors of this genocide was Immaculée Llibagizi, whose book, Left to Tell, was reviewed on our website by Eleonore Villarrubia. Immaculée has become an ambassador for Our Lady, promoting pilgrimages to her shrine in Kibungo. The shrine is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. She has also written a book on the apparitions.
What was true for Catholic Rwanda is true for Catholics throughout the whole world. If we do not do penance, as Our Lord told the Jews, "[we] shall all likewise perish."
At the 2005 synod of bishops, Bishop Rubwejanga spoke about the massacres, about forgiveness, and about hope:
Also, it is a fact that certain persons were killed in our churches . . . . [Our] challenges never lack, especially the one of reconciliation, but the vast majority of survivors of the national drama have understood, better than ever, the need for the sacrament of the Eucharist that gathers and seals our ties of broken brotherhood. Among the promising signs, there is the increase in the devotion to Our Lady of Kibungo, whose apparitions have been recognized by the local bishop for the past four years. The central message of these apparitions was conversion while there is still time.
[W]hile there is still time. These words should stir us to heed the warnings of our Blessed Mother. Let us appease her sorrows by giving her our love and devotion. With her Immaculate Heart she wishes to hold us in the crossing of her arms and in the folds of her mantle, as she assured Blessed Juan Diego.
September 15 is the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows, but on the Friday before Good Friday, April 3 this year, the Church honors Our Lady's Seven Sorrows in particular:
1) The prophecy of Simeon: "Thy own soul a sword shall pierce."
2) The flight into Egypt
3) The losing of the Child Jesus in the temple; Mary's three days of anguish
4) Mary's meeting Jesus as He carried His Cross to Calvary
5) The crucifixion and death of Jesus
6) The taking down of Jesus' body from the Cross and Mary's receiving it in her arms
7) The burial of Jesus
As we move the beads of our rosary through our fingers, let us meditate on these seven sorrows — not as a replacement for the regular fifteen mysteries, but as a special devotion from time to time, especially during the remainder of Lent. Our Lady requested it when she came to Rwanda. Do you not think that, while the Mother of God suffered these things in her mortal life, she was also offering up, in union with her Son, her interior pain for the salvation of the world? Who can fathom the pain of a heart without sin, immaculate, adorned with the jewels of every virtue in measureless degree? Here was a heart so good that it drew the Son of God to leap from eternity into time so that He could unite Himself with it incarnationally. She was His masterpiece, destined from all eternity to be the Mother of God.
After reading Sister Marie Thérèse's article "I Can't Mediate," in which she provides such excellent advice from the work of Father John Moffat, perhaps Our Lady's sorrows can be made more present to us.
It was for our salvation that Mary received with sorrow the prophecy of Simeon. She knew well that the Mother of the Messiah would suffer in union with her Son when she gave God her "fiat" at the Annunciation. Simeon's words only reinforced, more personally for her, what the prophets had foretold of "the Man of Sorrows."
It was for our salvation that Mary and Joseph took the divine Child and fled the wrath of Herod, so shortly after the Baby's birth. Already He was "a sign of contradiction" as Simeon had foretold. Already His Mother felt the first piercing of her Immaculate Heart.
It was for our salvation that Mary and Joseph willingly endured the sorrow of not knowing for three days what had happened to the Child entrusted to them. This was Joseph's greatest sorrow, that the chosen foster-father had failed in his paternal responsibility; understanding his pain, can you imagine the pain of the Mother? "Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing."
It was for our salvation that Mary ran to meet her Son when she received the news of His apprehension. What sorrow she endured when she could not find a way to get to Him at the Praetorium! What sorrow she felt when she heard the rabble call out for His blood! How she longed to look into His eyes and give Him her support, her blessing even, her strength! She would meet Him on the way to His execution. If she ran ahead of the Cross, she could catch Him as He passed by carrying it. Their eyes meet at last. "O Woman," His gaze seems to say to her, "you know, as no other, that I must be about My Father's business." "My Son," she seems to say to Him, "do whatever He tells Thee."
And so, her Heart would continue to be pierced through again and again, as she sacrificed herself with Him while He was being nailed to the Cross; as He hung on it in agony for three hours; and as He commended His soul to His Father in death. She could still feel the piercing of the lance in her Heart, that Jesus was not able to feel in His own, even as she laid Him in the sepulcher, and, perhaps even more agonizingly, as she walked away. But for the beloved John, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the holy women, how sorrowful and inglorious a funeral was this!
The Queen of Heaven did not need to look back when she heard the men roll the great stone in front of the tomb. Jesus, her Son, was the Resurrection and the Life.
Email Brian Kelly at email@example.com.