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Last Call: Our Lady of Kibeho

Candle held to a poor, shoeless girl from Gisaka

In Katori Hall's Our Lady of Kibeho, Alphonsine, "a dirt-poor girl with no shoes," has a vision.
In Katori Hall's Our Lady of Kibeho, Alphonsine, "a dirt-poor girl with no shoes," has a vision.

Moxie Theatre’s excellent Our Lady of Kibeho must close next Sunday (May 29).

Here’s some background:

Our Lady of Kibeho

Katori Hall’s drama retells the story of the seven Rwandan schoolchildren who witnessed visions of the Virgin Mary (“Our Lady of the Word”), starting in 1981.

Alphonsine Mumureke saw the first on November 28. “The Virgin was not as She is usually seen in holy pictures,” Alphonsine said. “I could not determine the color of her skin, but she was of incomparable beauty.

“She was barefoot and had a seamless white dress, and also a white veil on her head. Her hands were clasped together, and her fingers pointed to the sky…. When she left, I saw Her rise to heaven like Jesus.”

The other students persecuted Alphonsine. After all, she was just a poor, shoeless girl from Gisaka, a region infamous for magic; ergo, a witch. Either that or desperate for attention. (One of the play’s fascinating subjects: the politics of miracles.)

But then others began seeing the Lady. And in public. By this time doctors tested Alphonsine to see if she was faking when in ecstasy: pinch her, shake her, even hold a candle under her arm. She never budged.

By May of 1982, large crowds came to the school at Kibeho to watch the “seers” have visions. On August 15, an estimated 20,000 made a pilgrimage to the small village in southernmost Rwanda.

A reporter wrote: “towards the end of the Apparition, the Blessed Virgin asked the seers to bless the crowd. The seers are in ecstasy; they do not see the crowd.” They saw a symbolic garden of flowers, the faded ones needing water (because “their hearts are turned to earthly things, especially money”).

On August 19, a gruesome vision may have anticipated the Rwanda genocide of 1994 and the Kibeho school massacre the following year: “a river of blood, people who were killing each other, abandoned corpses with no one to bury them, a tree all in flames, bodies without their heads.”

Between 800,000 and one million Rwandans died in the 100-day genocide. Some estimates run higher.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II visited Rwanda and encouraged people to “turn to the Virgin as a simple and sure guide” — specifically, to heal the division between warring Hutus and Tutsi, who were tearing the country apart.

Marian visitations lie outside church doctrine. One can revere but not worship her. The Pope’s visit, which also anticipated the violence, served as a high validation for a troublesome problem to Roman Catholics.

There have been many visitations throughout history. Among the most famous: the Virgin of Guadalupe, at Mexico City in 1531 (on the Hill of Tepeyac, now the third most visited sacred shrine on Earth).

Our Lady mentions Fatima, in western Portugal, where three children saw a “lady brighter than the sun” in 1917. She “asked them to pray the rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.”

The play also mentions Medjugorje. “The Lady of Peace,” a “white form with a child in her arms,” made the first of many visitations to six Herzegovinian children on June 24, 1981 — four months before she appeared at Kibeho.

Playing through May 29

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In Katori Hall's Our Lady of Kibeho, Alphonsine, "a dirt-poor girl with no shoes," has a vision.
In Katori Hall's Our Lady of Kibeho, Alphonsine, "a dirt-poor girl with no shoes," has a vision.

Moxie Theatre’s excellent Our Lady of Kibeho must close next Sunday (May 29).

Here’s some background:

Our Lady of Kibeho

Katori Hall’s drama retells the story of the seven Rwandan schoolchildren who witnessed visions of the Virgin Mary (“Our Lady of the Word”), starting in 1981.

Alphonsine Mumureke saw the first on November 28. “The Virgin was not as She is usually seen in holy pictures,” Alphonsine said. “I could not determine the color of her skin, but she was of incomparable beauty.

“She was barefoot and had a seamless white dress, and also a white veil on her head. Her hands were clasped together, and her fingers pointed to the sky…. When she left, I saw Her rise to heaven like Jesus.”

The other students persecuted Alphonsine. After all, she was just a poor, shoeless girl from Gisaka, a region infamous for magic; ergo, a witch. Either that or desperate for attention. (One of the play’s fascinating subjects: the politics of miracles.)

But then others began seeing the Lady. And in public. By this time doctors tested Alphonsine to see if she was faking when in ecstasy: pinch her, shake her, even hold a candle under her arm. She never budged.

By May of 1982, large crowds came to the school at Kibeho to watch the “seers” have visions. On August 15, an estimated 20,000 made a pilgrimage to the small village in southernmost Rwanda.

A reporter wrote: “towards the end of the Apparition, the Blessed Virgin asked the seers to bless the crowd. The seers are in ecstasy; they do not see the crowd.” They saw a symbolic garden of flowers, the faded ones needing water (because “their hearts are turned to earthly things, especially money”).

On August 19, a gruesome vision may have anticipated the Rwanda genocide of 1994 and the Kibeho school massacre the following year: “a river of blood, people who were killing each other, abandoned corpses with no one to bury them, a tree all in flames, bodies without their heads.”

Between 800,000 and one million Rwandans died in the 100-day genocide. Some estimates run higher.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II visited Rwanda and encouraged people to “turn to the Virgin as a simple and sure guide” — specifically, to heal the division between warring Hutus and Tutsi, who were tearing the country apart.

Marian visitations lie outside church doctrine. One can revere but not worship her. The Pope’s visit, which also anticipated the violence, served as a high validation for a troublesome problem to Roman Catholics.

There have been many visitations throughout history. Among the most famous: the Virgin of Guadalupe, at Mexico City in 1531 (on the Hill of Tepeyac, now the third most visited sacred shrine on Earth).

Our Lady mentions Fatima, in western Portugal, where three children saw a “lady brighter than the sun” in 1917. She “asked them to pray the rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.”

The play also mentions Medjugorje. “The Lady of Peace,” a “white form with a child in her arms,” made the first of many visitations to six Herzegovinian children on June 24, 1981 — four months before she appeared at Kibeho.

Playing through May 29

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