On Oct. 4, Roman Catholics celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Italian deacon who brought renewal to the Church through his decision to follow Jesus’ words as literally as possible.
In a January 2010 general audience, Pope Benedict XVI recalled this “giant of holiness” as a “great saint and a joyful man,” who taught the Church that “the secret of true happiness” is “to become saints, close to God.”
The future Saint Francis was born on an uncertain date in the early 1180s, one of the several children born to the wealthy merchant Pietro Bernardone and his wife Pica. He originally received the name Giovanni (or John), but became known as Francesco (or Francis) by his father’s choice.
Unlike many medieval saints, St. Francis was neither studious nor pious in his youth. His father’s wealth gave him access to a lively social life among the upper classes, where he was known for his flashy clothes and his readiness to burst into song. Later a patron of peacemakers, he aspired to great military feats in his youth and fought in a war with a rival Italian city-state.
A period of imprisonment during that conflict turned his mind toward more serious thoughts, as did a recurring dream that suggested his true “army” was not of this world. He returned to Assisi due to illness in 1205, and there began consider a life of voluntary poverty.
Three major incidents confirmed Francis in this path. In Assisi, he overcame his fear of disease to kiss the hand of a leper. Afterward, he made a pilgrimage to Rome, where he deposited his money at Saint Peter’s tomb and exchanged clothes with a beggar. Soon after he returned home, Francis heard Christ tell him in a vision: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.”
Francis began to use his father’s wealth to restore churches. This led to a public quarrel in which the cloth-merchant’s son removed his clothing and declared that he had no father except God. He regarded himself as the husband of “Lady Poverty,” and resolved to serve Christ as “a herald of the Great King.”
During the year 1208, the “herald” received the inspiration that would give rise to the Franciscan movement. At Mass one morning, he heard the Gospel reading in which Christ instructed the apostles to go forth without money, shoes, or extra clothing. This way of life soon became a papally-approved rule, which would attract huge number of followers within Francis’ own lifetime.
Through his imitation of Christ, Francis also shared in the Lord’s sufferings. He miraculously received Christ’s wounds, the stigmata, in his own flesh during September of 1224. His health collapsed over the next two years, a “living sacrifice” made during two decades of missionary preaching and penance.
St. Francis of Assisi died on Oct. 3, 1226. Pope Gregory IX, his friend and devotee, canonized him in 1228.
“For he hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” – Psalm 90:11
The truth that each and every human soul has a Guardian Angel who protects us from both spiritual and physical evil has been shown throughout the Old Testament, and is made very clear in the New.
It is written that the Lord Jesus was strengthened by an angel in the Garden of Gethsemane, and that an angel delivered St. Peter from prison in the Acts of the Apostles.
But Jesus makes the existence and function of guardian angels explicit when he says, “See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10).
In saying this Jesus points out that all people, even little children, have a guardian angel, and that the angels are always in Heaven, always looking at the face of God throughout their mission on earth, which is to guide and protect us throughout our pilgrimage to the house of our Father. As St. Paul says, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).
However, they guide us to Heaven only if we desire it. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that angels cannot act directly upon our will or intellect, although they can do so on our senses and imaginations – thus encouraging us to make the right decisions. In Heaven our guardian angels, though no longer needing to guide us to salvation, will continually enlighten us.
Prayer to the guardian angels is encouraged, and the habit of remembering their presence and support leads to frienship with them. The prayer to the guardian angels has been present in the Church since at least the beginning of the 12th century:
Angel of God,
my Guardian dear,
to whom His love
commits me here,
ever this day
be at my side,
to light and guard,
to rule and guide.
“Let us affectionately love His angels as counselors and defenders appointed by the Father and placed over us. They are faithful; they are prudent; they are powerful; Let us only follow them, let us remain close to them, and in the protection of the God of heaven let us abide.” St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Kibeho is a small site located in the southern part of Rwanda, in the administrative district of Nyaruguru. It is 36 km from the Bishop of Gikongoro’s residence and 30 km from the Bishop of Butare’s residence. Kibeho is also the name given to one of the parishes of the diocese of Gikongoro, founded in 1934 and dedicated to Mary, Mother of God.
Today, Kibeho is best known as a place of apparitions and pilgrimages. The first apparition of Mary was on November 28, 1981, when Alphonsine Mumureke, a young student of the Kibeho High School, saw a lady of incomparable beauty who presented herself under the name of “Nyina Wa Jambo,” which means “Mother of the Word.” Alphonsine immediately recognized her as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Our Savior Jesus. The phenomenon occurred subsequently and several times in succession, at long or short intervals. The Virgin asked everybody to convert, to keep faith and to pray without hypocrisy.
Alphonsine was born on March 21, 1965, in Cyizihira, in the parish of Zaza, Diocese of Kibungo. Her parents were Thaddée Gakwaya and Mary Immaculate Mukagasana. She was baptized when she was 12 years old, on July 27 1977. At the time of the apparitions, she had just been admitted to the Kibeho High School in October, 1981, immediately after her primary studies. The Kibeho High School, founded in 1967 by a parish priest, Father Grégoire Kamugisha, has changed its name several times in order to conform to the programs of the National Education Ministry. When Alphonsine was admitted in 1981, it was called Kibeho High school; and later, since 1984, “Ecole des Lettres de Kibeho” (Kibeho School of the Letters), and nowadays, since 1998, “Groupe Scolaire Mère du Verbe” (Mother of the Word High school).
The first reactions caused by these unusual events within the community of the Kibeho High School as well as outside of the high school were not temperate. There were a lot of points of view that ranged from skepticism that feared trickery to unswaying belief and intolerance of any skepticism. At the beginning, Alphonsine was viewed as a mad girl, or an unhappy girl possessed by evil; or, according to some, as a mediocre student wanting to play a prank to make her more accepted in the school conducted by the Congregation of Benebikira Sisters (i.e., Daughters of the Virgin Mary).
Many people begged for signs of credibility. At the time of the ecstasies, students and teachers were free to apply tests on the body of Alphonsine in order to check and to verify her sincerity. It was even suggested that if it was really the Blessed Virgin Mary who had visited the school, they would take it seriously, if she at least appeared to other students instead of just that poor Alphonsine from Gisaka, a region which had a reputation for the practice of magic. Alphonsine asked the Virgin to respond to the challenge by appearing to others and exhorted her schoolmates also to ask her for themselves to receive necessary enlightenment.
A short time later, two new alleged seers appeared in the high school, one after the other, and in close proximity to Alphonsine: notably Nathalie Mukamazimpaka on January 12, 1982, and Marie Claire Mukangango on March 2, 1982.
Nathalie Mukamazimpaka was born in 1964 in Munini in the present district of Nyaruguru, parish of Muganza, Diocese of Gikongoro. Her father was Laurent Ngango and her mother, Gaudence Mukabaziga. She was baptized on February 2, 1968, when she was 4 years old. During the time of the apparitions, she was registered in the Kibeho High school in the 4th class of the Teaching school. As a seer of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Nathalie is especially known for the message of redemptive suffering and unceasing prayer for a world that is very bad and at risk of falling into an abyss.
Since March 2, 1982, Marie Claire Mukangango, schoolmate of Nathalie, declared herself as a seer of the Virgin Mary. Her case was like a bomb exploding inside the high school community, because until then Marie Claire was characterized by her fierce opposition to the “so-called” apparitions claimed by Alphonsine.
Marie Claire was born in 1961 in Rusekera, in the present district of Nyamagabe, parish of Mushubi, diocese of Gikongoro. Her father was Baseka and her mother Véronique Nyiratuza. She was baptized when she was 5 years old, on August 12, 1966. During the apparitions, she studied at the Kibeho High school, in 4th class of the Teaching school. As a seer, she is especially known for the message of the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, associated with an urgent call to repentance: “Repent, repent, repent!” the Virgin said to the world through the lips by Marie Claire.
If, for some, the increased number of the seers complicated the disconcerting situation created by Alphonsine, for others, the two new cases, especially the one of Marie Claire, were interpreted as a good sign coming from heaven to show that the prayer of Alphonsine had been accepted and to sustain the faith of all those that were still hesitating to take her apparitions seriously. Different witnesses interrogated in the Kibeho High School in 1982, declared that they began to believe in the apparitions after the extraordinary experience of Marie Claire. In short, the public opinion tried to find a natural explanation for the phenomenon, but without success, considering a great number of astonishing facts that were confirmed as the days passed that defied simple human understanding.
In spite of the critics and objections of all sorts against the apparitions, a movement of belief began to develop quickly enough inside and outside of Kibeho High School. Before the Christmas holidays of 1981, a group of “converted” students and teachers appeared at a regular prayer meeting with Alphonsine, where they recited the rosary accompanied by hymns in the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
But, after May 1982, the phenomenon of the apparitions took on a new dimension when is was spreading like a brush fire outside the Kibeho High school to reach the primary school and the surrounding hills, and even the more remote locations.
Another fact to be emphasized is that on the days of public apparitions, the seers experienced practically no ecstasies. The seers experienced the apparitions individually, one at a time, while the others seers were watching along with everyone else in the crowd. These apparitions varied in duration, depending on the occurrence, and they were usually marked by heavy falls at the end of the apparition.
The apparitions were also characterized by an abundance of words, the length of the ecstasies, songs, prayers of intercession, blessings (especially by means of water), repeated falls during the same apparition on certain days (from August 15, 1982 until the end of Lent in 1983), and other mortifications. Lent of 1983 was in particular characterized by extraordinary fasting that was closely monitored by a team of physicians from the National University of Rwanda.
Alphonsine Mumureke is said to have taken, on March 20, 1982, a “mystical journey” of several hours with the Virgin in another “world” throughout “places” that she describes in symbolic language that makes one think of realities such as Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but with a vocabulary very different from the one of the Catechism. Nathalie Mukamazimpaka had a similar experience on October 30, 1982, which was closely observed by a team from the Bishop’s theological commission.
The apparitions of Kibeho had very early on attracted crowds of people. On certain days, like May 30, 1982 for example, the crowd could be estimated at more than 10,000 people of all ages and all social classes.
The apparitions of Kibeho officially ended on November 28, 1989, a date on which Alphonsine, who was at the beginning of these events, experienced the Virgin’s last apparition in public. She specified that she would not have any more apparitions publicly. This meaningful fact, which was introduced 8 years after the Virgin’s first apparition at Kibeho, is recognized as an important historical reference for anybody who would like to know what happened and form a judgment on it.