By Melissa Wheeler
This April will mark 22 years since the beginning of the genocide in the African nation of Rwanda, which over 100 days left nearly 1 million people dead. In the face of devastation like this, we can wonder how people could possibly bring this kind of pain on one another.
There has been much suffering in Rwanda, but we can also see hope and joy in the people of Rwanda today. This hope and joy may be traced back to an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Kibeho to three high school girls beginning in 1981.
The Blessed Virgin first appeared to Alphonsine Mumureke on Nov. 28, 1981. She identified herself as “Ndi Nyina Wa Jambo,” or in English “Mother of the World.” The Blessed Mother called for conversion, the importance of prayer, penance and fasting to bring about peace over violence and hatred. These messages continued for Alphonsine until 1989. Two other young ladies, Anathalie Mukamazimpaka and Marie Claire Mukangango also received messages for a shorter time.
In 1992, in Kibeho, the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows was being built. It appeared in some ways that Mary’s calling was being heeded. Then in 1994, the atrocity of genocide held fast in Rwanda. We know that even in the face of such awful disregard of human dignity that Christ suffers with His brothers and sisters. We know that hope and joy must win the day. We can look at much of the goodness of Rwanda today and see that hope and joy presented by the Blessed Virgin Mary at Kibeho.
Today, about 80 percent of people in Rwanda are subsistence farmers. They grow what they need to feed their families. Even with this skill and livelihood, nearly two-thirds of Rwandans live on less than $1.25 per day.
In a situation like this, children are the most vulnerable. The first 1,000 days of life are vitally important to the development of a child. The situation in Rwanda is one where children have limited access to nutritious food. This results in 44 percent of children under the age of 5 being malnourished.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is working in Rwanda with pregnant mothers and new parents to improve health rates for babies and toddlers. CRS works with communities in Rwanda to support health and nutrition programs to help families grow nutritious crops to feed their families. As one can imagine, poverty is a major cause of malnutrition, so CRS also works with families to help them build an income to be able to participate in the market and make more resources available. Microfinance programs help mothers start businesses through small investment loans.
This week, take time to focus on the sacred dignity of all human life. Try to find ways to remember and celebrate your own value and worth. Find ways to respect the dignity of others as well. Remember the story of Rwanda and pray for conversion, penance and fasting as requested by our Lady of Kibeho.
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