Reprinted from Magnificat (www.magnificat.com)
Credible Witness: Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba
By Heather King
“What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people…capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life.” Porta Fidei 15
Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba, a married couple active in the Catholic association called the Emmanuel Community, were assassinated in their home, along with six of their ten children, during the Rwandan genocide.
Cyprien was born in 1935, Daphrose in 1944. They came from the same parish. As a young man, Cyprien entered the seminary, planning to become a priest. Shocked by scandals among his classmates and influenced by anti-Catholic philosophers, he abandoned the faith. He then embarked upon a career in government administration, with a focus on the promotion and creation of traditional Rwandan art, and worked as a poet and choreographer.
He and Daphrose were wed in 1965, but the union was difficult. Cyprien’s infidelities led to the birth of a child out of wedlock, and he ridiculed his wife’s Catholicism. Daphrose quietly continued in her faith, raising their ten children in the Church.
But in 1982, Cyprien suffered a life-threatening illness. He attributed his recovery to Daphrose’s unceasing prayers and underwent a profound conversion and spiritual renewal. Their marriage, newly characterized by tenderness and respect, bore rich fruit. The two began to live a life of intense faith, centered in charismatic renewal circles and prayer groups.
In 1989, the couple traveled to Paray-le-Monial, France, the site of the Sacred Heart revelations to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century. There they encountered the Emmanuel Community, a Catholic organization with an international presence, focused on discipleship and evangelization through prayer and acts of charity.
Back home they initiated a weekly sharing group-known in the Community as a “household”-and in September 1990, the Emmanuel Community in Rwanda was born. The Rugambas were especially effective in the evangelization of married couples. They were known throughout Rwanda: Daphrose for her ministries to children and the sick; Cyprien for his poetry and championing of traditional art.
But the political climate in Rwanda by this time was marked by increasing tension between the country’s two main ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. Political extremists began to call for violence. Rwandans were required to state their ethnicity on identity cards.
In their work for the Emmanuel Community, the couple kept their doors open both to Hutus and Tutsis: ‘We have only one party, that of Jesus,” Cyprien would say. Moreover, their peacemaking efforts and Cyprien’s public denunciation of racial hatred and division on radio broadcasts and elsewhere marked the couple out as targets.
In April 1994, ethnic tensions rose to a boil. Members of the Hutu ethnic majority took up machetes, clubs, and guns and turned on their minority Tutsi neighbors. An estimated million people were killed in the ensuing 100-day slaughter.
Cyprien and Daphrose were assassinated, along with six of their ten children, on April 7, 1994, the very first day of the genocide. The family had spent the previous night in Eucharistic adoration.
At the time of their death, the Emmanuel Community in Rwanda numbered 100. It is now the second-largest Emmanuel Community in the world. The Rugambas’ cause for canonization was opened in Kigali on September 18, 2015.