February 25, 2022

Spring Marriage Supplement

Rwandan martyrs Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba are role models for peace, prayer and trust in God’s mercy

Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba smile in the garden of their home in Kigali, Rwanda, in 1992. (Photo by Karel Dekempe courtesy of Wikipedia with licensure by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba smile in the garden of their home in Kigali, Rwanda, in 1992. (Photo by Karel Dekempe courtesy of Wikipedia with licensure by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

(Originally published in Black Catholic Messenger on Oct. 21, 2021. Reprinted with permission of the editor and author.)

By Nancy Sangwa Saro

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

These words of Tertullian, an early Church Father, still ring true today in the witness of Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba and six of their 10 children.

The night before they were killed, on the first of the 100 days of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, the family had spent the night in adoration in their home, where they had special permission to have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle of their home chapel.

One of their sons present that terrible morning survived, having played dead during the attack, and his family’s bodies were discovered with eucharistic hosts scattered all over them and the tabernacle shot into by the assailants.

A devoted family prayer life was not always the reality of the family. After his time in seminary during the 1950s, Cyprien was a staunch atheist—even after he married Daphrose, who was known to be a devout Catholic. Her prayer life carried her through the dark times of their marriage, as Cyprien despised her faith and conceived a child with another woman.

In 1982, Daphrose’s prayers were answered when Cyprien became ill. All of his senses, including his sight and hearing, were affected, which was very humbling for a renowned artist. As Cyprien observed Daphrose’s loving care for him despite all he had put her through, he began to wonder about her faith and his heart began to transform, restoring their marriage. Cyprien had a miraculous recovery on his way to get medical treatment in Europe and his conversion was solidified.

The whole family began to live a life committed to prayer and charity, with Daphrose having special compassion for children who lived on the street, and Cyprien began to compose numerous beautiful songs praising God. Many of the songs he wrote are still sung in Catholic Churches all over Rwanda.

One written not long before his death considers the joy of entering heaven: “Nzataha Yerusalem Nshya” (which translates to “I will enter the new Jerusalem”). My own family sang it when we laid my grandmother to rest in Texas.

When political tensions arose between Hutus and Tutsis during the late 1980s and early 1990s in Rwanda, Cyprien spoke out boldly for peace, which put him and his family on a list of those to be killed. Even with the opportunity to leave the country to escape danger, the couple chose to stay and trust in God’s mercy.

Before they were taken up to heaven, Cyprien and Daphrose laid the groundwork for the faith of many to be strengthened and restored during a time of deep uncertainty after the genocide of the Tutsis. By establishing the Emmanuel Community in Rwanda, a public association of the faithful of pontifical right, they created a community that many would call home and find refuge in.

The Rugambas’ martyrdom gave life to the faith of their brothers and sisters, which allowed them to welcome in many who were seeking—including my own parents. Some of my earliest memories were created at the children’s center Daphrose started, where the Emmanuel Community still takes in homeless children to this day.

On his visit to Kigali in 1990, four years before the genocide, Pope St. John Paul II said:

I believe that holiness exists among the people that are here among you, in the people of Rwanda, in your marriages, in your families. I am convinced of this. One of my fondest desires is to be able to beatify or canonize a couple as soon as possible. There is a great need. So all that I should wish for you is that this canonized couple come from Rwanda. That would be a sign of your Church’s spiritual maturity.

In 2015, Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba were declared “heroic in virtue,” giving them the title Servants of God and marking the start of the formal process toward their canonization. In September 2021, the diocesan inquiry into their lives was concluded.

The documents on their lives have now been sent to the Vatican for approval.

(Nancy Sangwa Saro is a Rwandan-American who works as a neonatal ICU nurse and student of bioethics in the San Francisco Bay area. To view a documentary on Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba, go to cutt.ly/Rugamba.)

Prayer for the beatification of the Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba

Holy Father,

We pray for the beatification of the Servants of God Cyprien and Daphrose. Give us to always have, like them, an incessant zeal for adoration, a heart burning of love for you and an active compassion for all who suffer.

Help us to give ourselves freely for the evangelization of the families and the poor.

In communion with Cyprien and Daphrose, we entrust to you especially couples who experience marital difficulties and people who are struggling to forgive their enemies, and we ask you to make us instruments of peace. Through the intercession of these Servants of God, we ask you Lord, according to Your will, the grace of (express your intention).

Lord, grant us peace and the grace that we ask in faith. Amen

(Those who have received favors through their intercession may write to: causescyprienetdaphrose@emmanuelco.org. Donate online: cyprienetdaphrose.com.)


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