Are apparitions of Mary real? What do they signify?
When I viewed a recent College of William and Mary theatrical production of Our Lady of Kibeho, written by Katori Hall, I pondered these questions. Based on a true story, in 1981, there were reports of at least three girls in a Rwandan Catholic school, who all claimed to have received visitations from the Virgin Mary. At first, these visions were positive in character, emphasizing the love of God. But soon, the visions turned dark, depicting a future time when the land of Rwanda would become killing fields, overwhelmed with violence. The visions were warning the people to repent. Initial skepticism of these visions eventually gave way to fear.
Thirteen years later, in 1994, Rwanda descended into mass genocide, where somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi’s were murdered by Hutu tribes people, which was soon followed by reprisals and civil war. The 2004 film, Hotel Rwanda, tells the story of these atrocities. Some say that the visitations of Our Lady of Kibeho were prophetic warnings that predicted this immense human tragedy. In 2001, a local Roman Catholic bishop deemed these Marian apparitions to be authentic.
Immaculée Ilibagiza, whose family was killed during the genocide, survived this ordeal, hiding in a pastor’s bathroom, along with several other women, for weeks. Ilibagiza was a speaker at the Bill Hybel’s Global Leadership Summit, that our church, Williamsburg Community Chapel, satellite hosted, this past summer. Ilibagiza, herself a Roman Catholic, travels the world, sharing her story, the challenge of forgiveness, and the story of the Catholic school girls involved with the Our Lady of Kibeho visitations.
As a Protestant evangelical, affirming the principle of sola scriptura, I have my doubts about the authenticity of visitations by the Virgin Mary. I see nothing in the Bible that would lead us to expect the Mother of Jesus to make visionary appearances to Christians in our day and age. To claim such apparitions to be authentic must somehow account for that fact that there are no such visitations to Protestant Christians, at least to my knowledge.
Nevertheless, these African girls did see something. I know that some Protestant Christians might think of these extraordinary experiences as being something demonic, but given the message of the visitations, a more moderate and positive view makes more sense. The call to the Rwandan people to repent of their racism was prophetic, and entirely consistent with the teaching of the Scriptures. It is sadly horrible to think that so many people of Rwanda, many who called themselves Christians, were unable to hear and obey that call to repentance.
But such a warning should not be limited to Rwandans. Jeremiah 17:9 points to the problem that all humans have, and not just the Rwandans involved in perpetrating the genocide: “The heart is deceitful above all things,and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I may not be able to fully explain the claims of the Marian apparitions, but I can affirm the teaching of the Scriptures that calls sinful humanity to repentance.
William and Mary’s production of Our Lady of Kibeho was an A+, in my view. If you ever have the opportunity to see Our Lady of Kibeho, you should do so, even considering the fact that the subject matter is indeed disturbing. The following two videos flesh out some of the stories I highlight here, first a three-minute interview with the William and Mary actors, explaining why the story of Our Lady of Kibeho needs to be told, followed by a twelve-minute CBS interview with Immaculée Ilibagiza.