Photo: Marian Archives
Marians in Rwanda Need Your Help in Bringing Mercy to War-Torn Country.
There are good reasons that Fr. Leszek Czelusniak, MIC's hands are so calloused, his eyes a little bloodshot, and his smile so wide.
He's been working day and night to design and build — literally, by hand — the Marians' Formation Center in Kibeho, Rwanda, following his Congregation's charism to go wherever the need is greatest.
It would be difficult to find a place more needy than Rwanda, a poor, central African nation still reeling from a civil war 13 years ago that claimed the lives of nearly a million people.
A presence in Rwanda since 1984, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception are undertaking a larger role there, particularly to help bring healing. They have a powerful tool at their disposal: the message of The Divine Mercy.
Only love and forgiveness — touchstones of the message of Divine Mercy — can bring transformation to this place so ravaged by corruption, disease, neglect, and bitterness, says Fr. Leszek, who is in charge of the Marian mission in Rwanda.
"Divine Mercy has resulted in big changes, big changes in Kibeho," he says. "It's helping to heal wounds. For the people here, Divine Mercy is like medicine. It's a healing balm."
Brick by brick, Fr. Leszek and local laborers have built a small residence for missionaries, an outdoor field altar, and a chapel, all anchored on a hilltop by an 18-foot-tall statue of The Divine Mercy that draws large number of pilgrims who pray before it.
"It's quite moving to see the sincere yearning for God," says Fr. Boguslaus Gil, MIC, a missionary who works with Fr. Leszek. "The group who gathers to pray at 3 o'clock keeps growing. They also are eager to learn more. I can preach for hours, and they still want to hear more!"
Marian missionaries in Rwanda wear many hats. They have to. In Rwanda, a country where Catholic religious are spread painfully thin — one priest for every 10,000 Catholics — the Marians must serve as teachers, spiritual directors, counselors, architects, mechanics, construction workers, grant writers, translators, and diplomats.
"They pour themselves out to spread the Gospel and to serve the poor without considering the cost to their own health or comfort," says Ellen Volkman, who serves as the Assistant to Fr. Joseph, MIC, Director of the Association of Marian Helpers, based in Stockbridge, MA. "All of them have had malaria. One described being in the clinic and realizing too late that the nurse had taken a sample of his blood with a used needle, which was very disturbing in a country with one of the highest percentage of people with AIDS in the world."
Ellen, who visited Rwanda in March, said what deeply impressed her is the Marians' "gratitude to serve people who know they need God."
But the Marians realize they haven't the infrastructure to handle the needs they face, which is why they are eager to begin the next phase of the Formation Center. They want to build a 14-bedroom pilgrim house in Kibeho to give people in formation a place to stay. The projected cost is $300,000. The Marians are seeking donations.
Why are the Marians in Kibeho in particular? At the request of the local bishop.
Kibeho is the site of the first Church-approved apparitions of Mary in Africa. Our Lady first appeared in 1981 to three schoolgirls. She called for repentance and predicted the bloody genocide that soon followed. The Shrine of Our Lady of Kibeho, consecrated in 2003 and within view of the Marians' Formation Center, has become known as the "Lourdes of Africa."
About 100,000 pilgrims visit Kibeho annually. "And the people receive graces all the time," says Fr. Les.
The bishop recognized the need for a Marian presence, not only for their expertise in teaching the message of The Divine Mercy, but because he wants the pilgrims in Kibeho to receive sound teachings about Mary to avoid any misinterpretation of the apparitions.
Fathers Leszek and Boguslaus have had a busy year at the Formation Center. On March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, their new chapel was blessed. On April 23, they celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday. In May, they hosted a national pilgrimage for the youth. In July, they held a seminar for 75 catechists of the local diocese, teaching not only the Catechism, but Marian spirituality and pastoral care of the family.
This month, they will hold two one-week sessions on evangelization and a retreat for priests and sisters of the Diocese of Kabgayi. Topics will include forming Marian cenacles and the role of the Holy Spirit. They will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first apparition of the Blessed Mother in Kibeho on Nov. 28. They will host a conference on the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 and 9.
Father Leszek has named the Formation Center "Cana," to honor Mary's famous intervention at the wedding feast of Cana in which Jesus performed His first miracle when He turned water into wine. That miracle was preceded by Mary's words to the wedding servers, "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:5).
Her words, says Fr. Leszek, have become the great exhortation to which the world is called to heed.
"She's instructing us to do His will," says Fr. Leszek, a dutiful servant in Rwanda.
To help the Marians in Rwanda, please call Ellen Volkman, Fr. Joseph, MIC's Assistant, at 1-800-671-2020 or e-mail her at EMiller@marian.org.