Rwanda: Pilgrimage in the land of a thousand hills

Last week I returned from a pilgrimage to Rwanda. I was in a group of 60 who participated in a Divine Mercy Apostolate organised pilgrimage and among others celebrated the Catholic feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the Solemnity of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Rwanda feels like your typical east African country – the architecture n general is similar, the traffic can get hectic and Swahili is spoken though not widely. The country has made great strides to heal from it’s past and portray itself as a model of success and development in a continent where such stories are few and far between.

Dawn over Kigali, Rwanda

Dawn over Kigali

The continuous hills were a bit overwhelming for someone who lives atop the flat and dusty Lilongwe plateau. The landscape was all green with many modern structures in Kigali city centre.

St. Vincent Pallotti Formation & Pilgrimage Centre

St. Vincent Pallotti Formation & Pilgrimage Centre

We stayed at the St. Vincent Pallotti Formation & Pilgrimage Centre, a very decent lodging facility owned by Pallottines of the Holy Family Province.

Moto Taxis

One thing you will immediately notice in Rwanda is the moto-taxis. They weave around traffic with little regard for their own safety.

The Moto Taxis in Kigali are just something else!

The Moto Taxis in Kigali are just something else!

On one particular evening in some pretty heavy traffic, two motos were trying to squeeze through a very small space between a large truck and another car. As the traffic inched forward, they both kept dangerously trying to make their way through the tiny space with little success. But they kept trying anyway! What surprised me was the fact that passengers on both motos didn’t seem the least concerned with the antics of their driver’s. Meanwhile, behind our bus, two motos bumped into each other, untangled themselves and both drove off as if nothing had happened.

Thank goodness everyone else was driving with some regard for the other road users.

We drove through town as some crazy hours and each time there was no shortage of activity. Moto taxis were always on hand to ferry commuters.

We drove through town as some crazy hours and each time there was no shortage of activity. Moto taxis were always on hand to ferry commuters.

Architecture

Rwandans have this lovely way of using patterns and textures in their buildings.

A hut at the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Kabuga, Kigali. Rwanda Pilgrimage

A hut at the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Kabuga, Kigali

Beautiful rock work at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Beautiful rock work at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sorrows. Rwanda Pilgrimage

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sorrows

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sorrows

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sorrows

Faith

When most people visit Rwanda they talk about how clean the country is. And clean it is. But that is not what struck me the most. Rwandans are people of faith. While both in Kigali and in Kibeho, there was a never-ending stream of people going into church or chapel to pray regardless of the time of day. Maybe it was a coincidence that at the time, in both places, we visited on the eve and day of two big feasts in the Catholic church’s calendar. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but notice this fact.

Holy Cross at the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Kabuga, Kigali. Rwanda Pilgrimage

All set for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross at the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Kabuga, Kigali.

Bishop Célestin Hakizimana during the mass of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Sorrows. Rwanda Pilgrimage

Bishop Célestin Hakizimana blessing the congregation with holy water during the mass of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Kabuga, Kigali

Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Kabuga, Kigali

Mass in Sanctuaire Notre Dame de Kibeho

Mass in Sanctuaire Notre Dame de Kibeho

Genocide Memorials

Flowers at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Flowers at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

In Kibeho we visited a Catholic church that was burnt together with hundreds of people locked inside during the 1994 genocide. They had taken shelter and refused to open in fear of militias. The church was set on fire by the attacking militias. 

The Kibeho Catholic church that was burnt with hundreds of people inside. The church has been fixed but a section has been closed off as a memory to those who perished inside.

The Kibeho Catholic church that was burnt with hundreds of people inside. The church has been fixed but a section has been closed off as a memory to those who perished inside.

One of many genocide memorials in Kibeho

One of many genocide memorials in Kibeho

A thousand hills

Rwanda is a very beautiful country! It is a pity I am poor at both French and Swahili, both languages that I learnt but have been too lazy to practice. I would have been able to talk to a few more people than I managed to, ask a lot more questions and discover a lot more gems. It was a great and enriching pilgrimage nevertheless.

The scenery is just lovely

The scenery is just lovely

A tea estate in Kibeho

A tea estate in Kibeho

Vendors outside the sanctuary in Kibeho

Vendors outside the sanctuary in Kibeho

View of Kigali

View of Kigali

A local pub serving beer, chicken and rabbit.

A local pub serving beer, chicken and rabbit.

Buses that ferried Ugandan pilgrims to Kibeho for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

Buses that ferried Ugandan pilgrims to Kibeho for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

Water harvesting tanks are a very common sight in Kibeho

Water harvesting tanks are a very common sight in Kibeho

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