ACN Feature Story: Rwanda – the first victims of the 1994 genocide

25.04.2019 in ACN Feature, ACN Intl, Rwanda


A Christian couple, among the first victims of the 1994 genocide

Twenty-five years ago, on April 7, 1994, Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba were cut down by the bullets of the Hutu militias. Cyprien was already a celebrated poet and choreographer who had undergone a radical conversion and was working actively for the reconciliation of the different tribal groups within his country.

Text by Thomas Oswald for ACN International
Adapted for Canada by Amanda Bridget Griffin
Published online: April 25, 2019

Their killers murdered them on the first night of the genocide while they were praying before the Blessed Sacrament in their home. They desecrated the Tabernacle and scattered the consecrated hosts over the floor.

Everybody, or at least nearly everybody in Rwanda, already knew the name of Cyprien Rugamba, a recognized poet, dancer and choreographer who was now working tirelessly for reconciliation in Rwanda. Together with his wife, Daphrose, he had introduced the Emmanuel community into their country and was working to support street children while making no distinction between the three main ethnic groups in the country, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Shortly before he was murdered, Cyprien had appealed to the authorities to remove the designation of tribal identity from people’s identity cards. It was an initiative that provoked deep hostility from the agitators who were seeking to foment civil war and which probably earned him his place among the very first victims of the massacre.


A radical conversion

Although he was raised as a Christian, Cyprien Rugamba had subsequently become very hostile towards Christianity, according to Laurent Landete, member of the Emmanuel community. For example, when his wife was in hospital on one occasion, Cyprien demanded that all the crucifixes be removed from her room, and he was also unfaithful to her and willing to listen to all kinds of calumnies against her, even to the point of being about to repudiate her. But then he fell gravely ill, and he, who was an artist, an intellectual and a dancer, found he could no longer speak, think or even move. “My pride was annihilated by this trial,” he recalled subsequently. Meanwhile, his wife faithfully continued to stay by him, remaining by his bedside throughout his illness, praying for him and watching over this husband whom she loved without apparently receiving any love in return.

Cyprien made a complete recovery – “miraculously,” he subsequently maintained. And following this “desert experience” he underwent a radical conversion of heart. Together with his wife, he set out to devote himself to works of charity. She had a little shop in the capital, Kigali, but the street children kept stealing potatoes from her stall. Realizing their terrible poverty, she decided to do something to help them. And the charity she set up then – and which is named after them – CECYDAR (Centre Cyprien et Daphrose Rugamba) – is still bearing fruit today. For 20 years the Centre has been welcoming children from the streets of Kigali and transforming their lives.”

“I will enter heaven dancing”

Cyprien Rugamba’s conversion also marked a profound change in his artistic career. “From now on, his centre of gravity was in heaven,”says Father Guy-Emmanuel Cariot, Rector of the Basilica in the French city of Argentueil, who organized an evening during which the Rugamba couple would be especially honoured on the 25th anniversary of their death. In fact, the cause for their beatification had already been launched by the Archdiocese of Kigali in 2015.

One of their children, who was actually present with them but survived the massacre, reported that when the killers entered, their first question to Cyprien was, “Are you a Christian?” to which his father had replied, “Yes, very Christian! And I will enter heaven dancing!” He was in fact repeating the words of a song he had written and which had become very popular in Rwanda. Daphrose then asked permission to pray one last time before the Tabernacle, which the family kept in their home. Her only answer was to be clubbed over the head with a rifle butt, then the soldiers turned their machine guns on the Tabernacle and then scattered the hosts over the floor, as though it was necessary for them to kill God first before they could kill men. They were roughly manhandled, then the whole family, including both parents, six children, one niece and a household employee, were herded together and machine-gunned to death.

The evening before they were executed, several friends had telephoned them in anguish. They later recalled being impressed by their quiet serenity. They had made no attempt to flee, preferring instead to believe right to the end in a Rwanda that was still united and capable of making peace.

ACN Feature Story – Hope in the midst of hopelessness in Rwanda

17.05.2016 in ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Aleksandra Szymczak, Rwanda


A Tale of Mercy

It is 1994. Over the course of just 100 days , approximately 800,000 people are slaughtered in Rwanda.

This genocide counts as one of the greatest human tragedies in African history.

A Polish missionary living in Rwanda for over 30 years, Fr. Stanislaw Filipek SAChas, has devoted his service to spreading awareness of God’s Mercy –building a Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Kigali, and most recently coordinating the first continental Congress on God’s Mercy in Africa to be held in September 2016.

During his visit to the international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

he spoke of his work in introducing Divine Mercy as experienced by Saint Sister Faustina Kowalska, the world-renowned apostle of Divine Mercy, in Rwanda today.

Hope in the midst of hopelessness

“Christ revealed Himself to Sister Faustina between the two World Wars” reflects Fr. Stanislaw. At a moment of deep hopelessness when people were afflicted with tragedy after an evil that was done, exactly in this very moment, out of the deepest hopelessness when everything was lost, ruined, God revealed Himself as merciful. God can fix it all. He can transform evil into good. We are being constantly invited to learn this, and this is the leitmotif of our pastoral work in Rwanda.”



 Reconstruction of persons in Rwanda (Groupe IBAKWE, 2012-2014): IBAKWE Activity

Reconstruction of persons in Rwanda (Groupe IBAKWE, 2012-2014): IBAKWE Activity

The purifying experience of the Cross

Fr. Stanislaw draws a parallel to the Rwandan experience through a story.A young woman, some 20 years ago when she was a young girl, gave false testimony against a man who lived in a house that somebody else wanted to take. This false testimony was enough to put the man in jail for eight years. He suffered from being in jail while innocent and from the growing need for revenge. While in jail he had a personal encounter with Jesus. He converted and began a process of inner forgiveness. Meanwhile the woman who accused him realized that when she prayed the name of this man kept ringing in her head. Her conscience awoke and she started sharing with a priest and soon they concluded that she needed to find this man and beg for his forgiveness. So began a long process of searching. She searched the prisons for years. One day she learned the man had been released and she finally found his house. Scared and not knowing how he would react she asked for his forgiveness. ‘I forgave you long ago’ was the reply. ‘I wanted to wreak a vengeance on you but I have converted and now I am aware that God led me through a Way of the Cross – a very difficult one – but one that released me. And so I forgive you.’ He hugged and kissed her. These people are now friends.”

Good out of experienced evil

The devotion to God’s Mercy in Rwanda “was sown into fertile ground,” says the missionary “because in this post-war context a great question arose: How to talk about forgiveness? In Rwanda I often hear this question: ‘who should forgive first’? There is no easy answer, but I keep repeating: he, who is wiser, he, who is closer to God, he should learn to forgive. One never loses forgiving. On the contrary, you can only win. I think that John Paul’s II words from Dives in Misericordiae are helpful here. He said that the art of God’s Mercy consists in bringing good out of experienced evil. This means that we should not focus on evil – one that we have caused or one that we have experienced – but on the good that we can do. I think that this is the most effective, and probably the only way to reconciliation.”


Procession during a formation in Rwanda

The Sowing

“The idea of God’s Mercy spread all over Rwanda in a quite simple way”, explains the missionary. “The Pallottines1 in France published a small brochure on the Devotion to God’s Mercy including the Rosary of Mercy, Sunday of Mercy, the Hour of Mercy, etc. We translated it into Kinyarwanda, one of the official languages and it spread quickly. At some point the bishops started asking, ‘What is this all about, this God’s Mercy’. They didn’t know and they were afraid it was some kind of sect.” To answer the growing interest in the topic, the Pallottines in 2008 proposed to Rwanda’s Episcopal Conference to take responsibility for the movement and it has since grown rapidly with national chaplains, a national committee of Divine Mercy Groups and from September 9 to 15, 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda a first African Continental Congress on God’s Mercy will be held. Supported by Aid to the Church in Need, the theme of the meeting is ‘God’s Mercy as a source of hope for the New Evangelization of the African Continent’.

“After the tearing of a society apart by genocide, war and mourning the victims, we see clearly that God’s Mercy might be the answer, an antidote to all this evil, by which people are afflicted” rejoices Fr. Stanislaw.


  1. The full name is  the Pallottine Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate founded by Vincent Palloti in 1838.

By Aleksandra Szymczak, press@acn-intl.org

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada






Journey with ACN – Rwanda

04.04.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, FORMATION, IFHIM, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Rwanda

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which will be regularly posted to our blog.   Our weekly newsletter was designed to provide us with an opportunity to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with some of the projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:    Rwanda

Bringing “Families of Peace” into being 

By Robert Lalonde,

Translated and adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada 

It was in 1995 when the partnership between Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the Montreal Institute of Integration and Formation (IFHIM) was first formed.  Since that time, numerous bursaries have been given to students who have come from countries on every continent.  ACN has supported various other formation projects with pastoral goals.  The following experience is one which merits highlighting.


FAMILLE DE PAIX 3Msgr. Servilien Nzakamwita, the bishop of the Byumba diocese in Rwanda, came to know of the Montreal Institute of Formation and Integration (IFHIM) while assisting in the evaluation of the preceding ten years of commitment by the Ibakwe group (former students of IFHIM in Rwanda).  Profoundly touched by the formative work for peace that these people had accomplished within the country, he expressed his desire to see the benefits he perceived brought forth by means of these initiatives, and the work of the Ibakwe group be provided throughout his diocesan.

After coming to Montreal, where he met with African sisters and priests, as well as the first African missionary to Africa, Jean-Claude Kaburane, a Rwandan, and after having participated in seminars, listening and questions, he decided to integrate a process of humanization in his diocese through which people should be formed.

In 2008, the seed was planted and lay people committed in a variety of milieus, sisters and priests alike, were trained to become ‘bridge builders’.  Then in 2010, a second session would serve to extend the training for people to become a little more solid in order to intercede wherever they were enlisted to help.  Further, in 2011, young people would begin joining in with the adults and people from other religious denominations.


Meeting with 48 couples

After all these experiences, Msgr Nzakamwita, felt concern for families and wished to create ‘families of peace’, people who, above and beyond their differences would come together as people and discover themselves through their own active participation and enter into a lifetime commitment.  So he undertook a process which would support IFHIM to give formations to families which would result in ‘families of peace’.

In July 2012, a caravan of former students from IFHIM, composed of twelve helpful people, with their director Marie-Marcelle Desmarais at the helm as educator, would leave for Byumba to meet with 48 couples, along with two sisters committed to Action for the Family and five priests who had been trained in the sessions and who would eventually become relay contacts in the daily lives of these couples.

“It was of utmost importance to allow these people to discover their vital human strengths in their daily living experiences, for it is from their strengths that they will build love and peace between them and around them,” explained the director, to us.

The couples were then invited to share an experience in which both of them had done something helpful for the other.  They discovered that these initiatives were undertaken in order to treat the other, like a person. And from this understanding, their love for one another was revealed to them.  Before the sheer surprise and joy which began to manifest on the couples faces who dared to speak, it became clear that each one had needed to have these lived experiences.

Afterward, the couples were invited to pair-up, two by two, to uncover the riches in their lives, those which they could invest in. “If you could have seen their faces light-up as they discovered these experiences which they never would have spoken of,” said the educator.  The whole process also allowed them to see how they were able to become aware of the effects of their anger toward their children, which would result in a decision to learn how to manage it in order to truly love them.


 “What kind of medicine have you given them?”

At the end of the session, all wished to share an experience related to their process: “What we have just learned,” said one among them,” truly shapes us.”  My life will never be the same.  I would like to turn my home into an oasis of peace.  I have decided to help my wife and my children, for I was even preventing my children’s peace.”

Six months later, Auréa, the Ibakwe coordinator, who was sure the Byumba couples would become ‘Builders of Bridges for Peace’ and also multipliers in their entourage, communicated with Msgr Nzakamwita.  Here is what he said: “The group continues to meet and to live in solidarity and in dialogue with one another. They have become ambassadors for other couples who have not followed the course.  I even heard one person who holds a position of authority in the country ask what kind of medicine we have given them, because the number of trials dealing with domestic conflicts has decreased.”

A new session took place in August 2013 as a follow-up to the last.  Even though it is not the best time of year to attract massive participation, not only did many couples return, but they were accompanied by many newcomers. The experienced couples said, “As much as the newcomers, those of us who are experienced need to be, and to profoundly become,“builders of bridges of peace,” in order to bring into being “families of peace” in our world torn by all kinds of violence.”

The number of couples continues to grow.  From 50 they have expanded to 86. “The next step,” concludes Sister Marie-Marcelle,” consists in equipping them for their mission as multipliers.” This formation deserves to be supported year after year, especially if we wish to see the number of families who will benefit grow even more and expand across this country, which has suffered so deeply.

Imagine the hope this represents, for this country which, only 20 years ago lived through an unspeakable genocide!


Journey with ACN – Rwanda

28.03.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, CONSTRUCTION, Journey with ACN, Religious formation, Rwanda

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which will be regularly posted to our blog.   Our weekly newsletter was designed to provide us with an opportunity to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with some of the projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:    Rwanda







Help for the construction of a guesthouse for the Carmelite nuns in Nyamirambo

The Carmelite sisters in Nyamirambo’s convent on the outskirts of the Rwandan capital of Kigali, is a place of silence and of prayer.

Time and again people are drawn to this atmosphere, wanting to spend a few days withdrawn from the world to find their way back to God. More and more priests, religious and laity are requesting the opportunity to have retreats here. However, the Carmelite sisters are not in a position to accommodate visitors, for they simply do not have the capacity and – owing to the happy circumstance that they have many vocations – they need all the available space for their own community.

In order to resolve the problem, the sisters began building a separate guesthouse in 2001, which included 24 rooms. The convent is situated in a beautiful location:  a hillside with a view of Mount Kigali and Mount Rebero. It is a perfect place for their visitors to find rest and renewal, both in body and in spirit. The centre will also provide some employment for local people, such as cooks and cleaners for example, giving them an opportunity to supplement their family income. And for the Carmelite sisters themselves the guesthouse will at the same time be a precious and much-needed source of income.

The first phase of the construction has already been completed, thanks to the help of ACN. But now the sisters need more help to complete the work. They write, “The Child Jesus is urging us to turn to you in trust and seek your help.”

We have no doubt that our benefactors will not disappoint these good nuns, and so we have already promised $133,650  to help them complete their work on this oasis of peace and prayer.


To make a donation by  please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333  or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.

To make a donation by please call: (514) 932-0552 or toll free 1-(800) 585-6333
or click the image to make a secure on-line donation.