September 23rd 2021 marked the end of the diocesan phase of the process of beatification of a family murdered at the outset of the terrible events in Rwanda: the Rugambas.
Cyprien Rugamba was a great Rwandan intellectual, poet, author, composer, born in 1935. He entered the seminary in 1954 but left it in 1959 having lost his faith after reading the works of existentialist philosophers.
Cyprien was appointed director of the National Institute of Scientific Research (INRS) in Butare. He became one of the greatest specialists of the Rwandan language, Kinyarwanda. He studied the culture of his country, which he loved passionately. Those studies led him to the conviction that Rwanda is only one. One culture, one language and one people: the Rwandans. Cyprien was the apostle of that single people and never let himself be trapped by those who tried to divide Rwandan society into different ethnic groups. Cyprien’s work found recognition after his death and in 2018 he was proclaimed witness of unity by the Rwandan Commission for National Unity and Reconciliation.
The Rugambas lived in Butare and had many children One day his wife Daphrose discovered the Charismatic Renewal through two Evangelical friends. That was how she strengthened her prayers for her husband’s conversion.
In 1989, Cyprien lost his job and with his family moved to Kigali where they joined the Jesus’ Merciful Heart prayer group. Daphrose soon became its leader. It was in that period that the Rugambas encountered the Emmanuel Community later making it known in Rwanda. They devoted their final years to evangelization and the service of the poor. It was Daphrose who suggested her husband work with street children in Kigali.
On April 7th 1994, the President’s Guard soldiers stormed into their family home. ‘Are you still a Christian?’ their chief asked Cyprien. ‘I am”, he answered. The soldiers gathered the whole family in the garden and shot them. 6 of their 10 children were killed with their parents: Emerita, Serge, Cyrdy, Dacy, Cyrdina, Ginie as well as their little cousin Gabrielle.
If the Church confirms this family’s martyrdom, they will be beatified as a family, which is an extremely rare case. To find similar examples we need to go back as far as the families martyred in Rome. In the fourth century there are Saint Flavian and Saint Dafrosa (Dafrosa Rugamba’s own patron saint – is that a coincidence?) and their two daughters, Saint Bibiana and Sainta Demitri.
Translation: Paolo Zanna