Pilgrims hold candles as they process around the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Marian sanctuary in Kibeho. Many people come on August 15 for the Assumption of Mary, as well as November 28, the anniversary of the very first vision, by Alphonsine Mumureke in 1981. All photos: Gianmarco Maraviglia
Kibeho is a small town nestled in the southwest corner of Rwanda, known outside the region for two things: reported visions of the Virgin Mary that took place in the 1980s and two massacres during and after the Rwandan genocide in 1990s, when thousands were killed there.
In November 1981, 16-year-old Alphonsine Mumureke reported a vision she described as the Virgin Mary, warning of a bloody, apocalyptic, hate-filled conflict to come. She initially endured ridicule after reporting what she saw, but days later two other young women at Catholic Kibeho College, Anathalie Mukamazimpaka and Marie Claire Mukangango, claimed to have seen the same beautiful, floating apparition.
Thousands flocked to witness the reported miracle, even as the girls had described ominous, gruesome sights associated with them. In retrospect many have interpreted the visions as a warning. More than a decade later, Kibeho was the site of one of the early massacres of the Rwandan genocide, and another, retaliatory massacre almost exactly a year later. Tens of thousands, encompassing both the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, lost their lives in the small town, among them Mukangango, one of the young women who first saw the visions.
In 2001, after nearly two decades of consideration, local bishop Augustin Misago officially recognized the authenticity of the visions, thereby providing official Catholic endorsement of the devotional gatherings that have taken place in Kibeho for years. It is the only place in Africa with an appearance of the Virgin Mary recognized by the Vatican.
Photographer Gianmarco Miraviglia captured one of these gatherings for Atlas Obscura, when the town hosts tens of thousands of pilgrims.
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