Rwanda set to launch religious tourism component this week


(Posted 18th June 2013)

The Tourism and Conservation Department of the Rwanda Development Board will according to an insider’s story, this week launch the country’s first religious tourism product, focusing on the Kibeho area in Southern Rwanda.

On the 28th of November 1981 were the first apparitions reported from that little village, with teenagers talking of having seen the images of Mary, mother of Jesus, something which kept occurring time and again until 1989.

In particular the visions seen in August 1982 are on record for having given a preview of the gruesome events in 1994 and those affected at the time gave testimony of seeing rivers of blood and mutilated bodies, harbingers of the things to come. The Catholic Church, through Bishop Misago of Gikongoro, sanctioned public devotion in August 1988 and formally declared the authenticity of the apparitions in June 2001.

Inspite of the recognition by the Vatican though, few outside Rwanda, but the most devoted followers of Mary, knew about these events for a long time though slowly the word spread, making Kibeho the centre of a steadily growing number of visitors from near and far, coming there to pray and to remember. Work on the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows started according to details received in late 1992 and managed by the order of the Pallotines.

The Tourism and Conservation Department recognized the value of the site and its potential to significantly increase participants of such pilgrimages coming to Rwanda, and hand in hand with local partners in Kibeho provided logistical support to market tours to this village.

The formal launch of Rwanda’s first religious tourism route will provide travelers to the country with compact information about the events in the 1980’s and the process of formally recognizing the apparitions, and allow local tour and safari operators to include a visit to Kibeho in their itineraries, when taking tourists to see the sights across the Land of a Thousand Hills.

The declaration made by the bishop of Gikongoro reads in part like this and will undoubtedly feature in pamphlets, maps and on the promotional websites: ‘Kibeho become a place of pilgrimage and of encounter for all who seek Christ and who come there to pray, a fundamental centre of conversion, of reparation for the sins of the world and of reconciliation, a point of meeting for ‘all who were dispersed’, as for those who aspire to the values of compassion and fraternity without borders, a fundamental centre that recalls the Gospel of the Cross’.

A tourism stakeholder, for long involved in Rwanda’s tourism industry, added his own assessment to the launch this week: ‘Our future lies in diversifying our tourism products. We now have 10 gorilla groups available for tracking but this is a finite resource. Even at a cost of 750 US Dollars it sells like hotcakes. Near that park are the Musanze caves which RDB started to open up recently for visitors. But truth told, we need to offer a lot more beyond gorillas. We have Nyungwe and that park has seen growing acceptance. We wait for the other big forest, Gishwati, to open up for hikes because there is a lot of demand for such vacations. The Congo Nile Trail needs perhaps more marketing and logistics too with more tourist class boats for trips along the Lake Kivu shores. This market is for adventure travelers, for hikers and bikers. But even normal tourists now take the route by 4×4 to enjoy the magnificent views from the hills down to the lake. Then, Akagera is our savannah park and we have new birding trails across the country even outside parks. Religious tourism opens another niche and allows for greater variety of tour options. We have highlighted the rich cultural heritage of song, dance and arts and our museums are giving visitors the insight they seek. All this combined gives us that extra element of value for money when tourists come here’.

Congratulations to the tourism gurus in the private sector and at RDB’s Tourism and Conservation Department for opening up Rwanda and showcasing new attractions year after year.

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