In the early 1980s, Our Lady of Kibeho appeared to three schoolgirls in Rwanda and gave one of the girls, Marie Claire, a special mission: to revive and spread the Seven Sorrows Rosary.
“With the recitation of the Seven Sorrows Rosary, the hardest of hearts shall change, if you pray it for yourself or for others,” Our Lady of Kibeho promised Marie Claire.
After reading about this apparition in Immaculée Ilibagiza’s book Our Lady of Kibeho several years ago, I was inspired to learn to pray the Seven Sorrows Rosary. But despite my good intentions, I kept putting it off. I’m a creature of habit, and it often takes me a long time to add a new devotion to my regular prayers. Months went by, then years. Still, it remained in the back of my mind, until finally, one February, I decided to make it my Lenten resolution to pray the Seven Sorrows Rosary every day.
What I didn’t know then was that the timing of my resolution was a gift from heaven.
Very soon after I began praying the Seven Sorrows Rosary, my world was torn apart by devastating family circumstances. As the darkness descended around me, I clung to that Rosary for dear life. The Seven Sorrows Rosary changed from a Lenten resolution into a life preserver. While my own heart was being pierced, I felt Our Lady of Sorrows walking beside me, and I came to know her maternal love in an entirely new way.
Our Lady’s heightened presence in my life through this devotion was a solace in my suffering. It was also the unexpected answer to a deep yearning I had felt for long years before this: a yearning to know Mary better.
Although I grew up in a loving Catholic family, I had never felt like I truly knew the Blessed Mother. At least, not in the way I’d heard other Catholics talk about knowing her. In my childhood, I learned a lot about Jesus and the Bible, but I don’t recall praying the Rosary or talking much about Mary. As a young adult, I had a great awakening of my faith, and my love for the Church increased by leaps and bounds—yet as other spiritual truths became clearer, one thing remained foggy: I still didn’t feel like I fully knew Mary. I wanted to know her better. I longed to know her the way others did. But somehow, she seemed distant, and I didn’t know how to close that gap.
All of that changed when I started praying the Seven Sorrows Rosary every day. It was as if a floodgate of grace had opened, and suddenly I could understand and feel Mary’s love in the way I had always longed to. Through knowing her love in the midst of my personal agony, I found a peace unlike anything I had ever felt before.
Paradoxically, it was suffering that united my heart with hers in profound peace. It was sharing in her Sorrows that showed me her great love. It was desolate, desperate sadness that paved the way to interior joy.
When that Lent ended, my resolution didn’t. I couldn’t let it go. The Seven Sorrows Rosary was no longer a decision that I compelled myself to make. Instead, it was a gift that I got to open every day. Not something I gave, but something I received. I didn’t know how to get through the day without it. It had become water to my soul.
When Mary appeared and encouraged her children to honor her Sorrows, it was not because she wanted our pity for her own sake. She did it for us. In her maternal compassion, she knew that this devotion would draw people closer to her Immaculate Heart, where she could, through the grace of her Sorrows, unite our pain with hers—and with her Son’s—and thereby transform it into grace.
To meet Our Lady in her Sorrows is to allow her to console us in ours.
The Seven Sorrows Rosary is one way to do this. You can find a guide to praying the Seven Sorrows Rosary here.
Another way, as Our Lady revealed to St. Bridget of Sweden, is to pray one Hail Mary while meditating on each sorrow:
The Seven Sorrows of Mary
- 1. The Prophecy of Simeon (Hail Mary)
- 2. The Flight into Egypt (Hail Mary)
- 3. The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Hail Mary)
- 4. Mary Meets Jesus on the Road to Calvary (Hail Mary)
- 5. Mary Stands at the Foot of the Cross (Hail Mary)
- 6. Mary Receives the Body of Jesus Taken Down from the Cross (Hail Mary)
- 7. Jesus is Placed in the Tomb (Hail Mary)
Mary also gave these promises to St. Bridget of Sweden for those who pray a Hail Mary while meditating on each of her Seven Sorrows:
- 1. “I will grant peace to their families.”
- 2. “They will be enlightened about the divine Mysteries.”
- 3. “I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.”
- 4. “I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of my divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.”
- 5. “I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.”
- 6. “I will visibly help them at the moment of their death. They will see the face of their Mother.”
- 7. “I have obtained this grace from my divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to my tears and sorrows will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness, since all their sins will be forgiven and my Son will be their eternal consolation and joy.”
May the tender solicitude of Our Lady of Sorrows console and strengthen you, now and always.
image: Fresco of Our Lady of Sorrows in S. Stefano Rotondo (Rome), photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)