In the spring and summer of 1916, nine-year-old Lúcia Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto were herding sheep at the Cova da Iria near their home village of Aljustrel in the parish of Fátima, Portugal. They would later say they were visited three times by an apparition of an angel. They said the angel taught them prayers, to make sacrifices, and to spend time in adoration of the Lord.
In a season of the year here which Rwandans like to call ‘summer’ (just a dry warm season, with absolutely no rain), I would be walking up a lane called Fatima in the sunny town of Muhanga. I’d taken a 7-hour stopover on my journey back to Kigali from Huye, to explore this sparsely-green administrative capital of the Southern Province. Formerly known as Gitarama, Muhanga town holds in it – Fatima.
A narrow road named Fatima is paved, littered with spaced outhouses, walled yards in front buffering them from the street, sharply ascending roofs and walls made of burned brick. At one of its sharp turns, it spews out a quaint monumental structure equally named ‘Fatima’.
Its spire rises above almost all else in this town. Perched atop one of its approaching hills, the spire is a landmark that one would hardly miss from most areas surrounding the main road into Muhanga. I’d been directed to it by Jean Baptiste Twambajimana, a major seminarian at Petit Seminaire Saint Leon Kabgayi that I’d visited earlier down the road. He told me they’d celebrated mass there that previous Sunday, and many times before, the most memorable being the centenary anniversary celebrations for the 1916 apparitions.
The structure is glass-walled and see-through. It houses about a dozen short pews, a statue of the Virgin Mary at a raised marble altar. The views from it are of an expansive Muhanga down below, and the majestic Kabgayi Cathedral with its beige century-old brick walls.
It’s a quiet space, good for entering a ruminating reverie, good for prayer and good for reminiscing. It’s a place I think the children of Fatima would have loved visiting if they had been born in Rwanda.
There’s a presence here. Maybe a hope that what happened on these hills may never be re-enacted.
It is said that the most important dimension of the Fátima event was not the supernatural phenomena but the content and the meaning of the message communicated to the children. By following this message their spiritual lives were elevated to the heights of sanctity, to which the beatification of Jacinta and Francisco testifies, and the hope and possibility of the conversion of the world from its ruinous course were offered to mankind.