Kibeho reborn: A visionary project to elevate a place of worship to a town of wonder

By Esther Muhozi
On 13 February 2024 at 11:01

In the heart of Nyaruguru District, the Virgin Mary Sanctuary in Kibeho is set for a monumental transformation, envisioned by its administration to evolve into a town that offers a holistic experience to its visitors. This ambitious plan involves the rollout of 25 projects over a sprawling 25 hectares, aiming to modernize the sacred space while retaining its spiritual essence.

Since 2014, Kibeho has undergone remarkable changes, notably with the introduction of tarmac roads that have made the holy site more accessible to Catholics from diverse backgrounds. The focus on essential amenities such as water, electricity, educational institutions, accommodation, and improved road networks underscores the comprehensive development strategy for the area.

Father François Harelimana, the Director of the Virgin Mary Sanctuary, has observed a significant increase in the number of visitors to Kibeho, with figures surpassing other famous pilgrimage sites like Lourdes.

This surge underscores the urgent need for expansion to accommodate the sanctuary’s growing activities and visitor numbers. "We appeal to all who cherish Kibeho to support us in finding space for these vital projects. Our current land simply cannot sustain the influx," Father Harelimana explained, highlighting the pressing need for additional land to realize these ambitions.

The sanctuary’s current limitations in space, particularly for hosting visitors, are a concern. However, with government support, including the provision of a parking lot adorned with a monument of the Virgin Mary, the entrance to Kibeho has become more inviting.

Father Harelimana envisions this expansion to encompass more than just pilgrimage needs, proposing the construction of a conference center to host public talks, a departure from the current practice of utilizing the Cathedral for such events.

A notable gap in Kibeho’s facilities since 1981 is the absence of a library. Father Harelimana emphasizes the importance of establishing a library and research center to delve into Kibeho’s rich history and document its spiritual significance, providing resources for both education and reflection on the events that have shaped this holy place.

Hosting dignitaries and enhancing facilities

The sanctuary’s prominence has attracted dignitaries from across Africa and Europe, including a historic visit by the President of Poland, Andrzej Sebastian Duda, on February 8, 2024.

This underscores the need for facilities that can adequately host such significant guests. "We need spaces that not only pay homage to Kibeho’s historical and spiritual significance but also offer the necessary services for dignitaries," Father Harelimana stated, stressing the importance of balancing reverence with hospitality.

The sanctuary management is actively working towards creating a dedicated space for these purposes, with the vision of eventually establishing a house owned by the company in charge of the sanctuary. This initiative aims to maintain Kibeho as a serene place of prayer while accommodating the practical needs of its visitors.

Expanding the sacred grounds

To accommodate the sanctuary’s growth, Father Harelimana has announced the need for substantial land acquisition, essential for parking and the development of the proposed projects.

"While we have many projects in mind, securing land is our immediate priority. This will allow for phased development as resources become available," he explained.

The requirement for over 25 hectares of land signifies a major expansion effort, with a budget estimation of at least 3.5 billion Rwandan Francs. Father Harelimana remains optimistic about the support from the Christian community and benevolent donors, both domestically and internationally, to meet this ambitious goal.

Among the planned projects are the construction of a historical learning center, a modern hospital, a road to the ’Blessed Water Spring’, and the Way of the Cross, illustrating a multifaceted approach to enhancing the spiritual and physical infrastructure of Kibeho.

These developments aim to enrich the pilgrimage experience, ensuring visitors not only engage with the site’s religious significance but also enjoy modern conveniences and learn about its history and legacy.

The Virgin Mary Sanctuary in Kibeho is set for a monumental transformation.
Father François Harelimana, the Director of the Virgin Mary Sanctuary.