Family Killed in Rwandan Genocide Being Considered for Sainthood after Glowing Testimonies

Cyprien Rugamba, his wife Daphrose Rugamba who were all executed in the infamous 1994 Rwandan genocide. Credit: Public Domain

The canonization of Cyprien Rugamba, his wife Daphrose Rugamba, and their six children who were all executed in the infamous 1994 Rwandan genocide, is being considered after the conclusion of a report detailing the Catholic family’s exemplary life.

The family has been described as “a light in total darkness” for their efforts to restore peace in the country that was plunged in one of the world’s worst massacres that reportedly claimed the lives of 800,000 people.

Various media reports indicate that Mr. Rugamba was a celebrated composer of Catholic songs in Rwanda who, together with his wife, founded a vibrant charity organization for street children in the Eastern African country. The couple also founded a peace entity whose efforts to end violence in the country led to the extermination of their family.

Testimonies of their lives were compiled in the report that was presented during the celebration of Holy Mass, which was presided over by Antoine Cardinal Kambanda at Regina Pacis Catholic Parish of Rwanda’s Kigali Archdiocese on September 23.

Cardinal Kambanda hailed the exemplary lives of the Rugamba family, saying that family members’ selflessness had provided a model for others to follow years after they had been killed.


“The Rugamba family was a light in total darkness; it was a light of love in times of hatred and the family promoted unity and love,” the Rwandan Cardinal who is the Archbishop of Kigali said.

He added, in reference to Rugamba and his wife, “The couple has been an example to many other people, where they stuck together in hard times and chose unity.”

“We have witnesses and testimonies of people who knew them and it is through these testimonies and their undeniable good works in the community that we were able to compile the report. We would like the couple to be put in the category of the ‘blessed’, which comes before sainthood,” the Cardinal said.

Once canonized, the family would become Rwanda’s first family of saints, The New Times of Rwanda has reported.

According to The New Times report authored by Liesse Niwe, the canonization of Rugamba’s family that was killed by Rwanda’s former presidential guards on 7 April 1994 was opened by the Catholic Church on 2 October 2015.

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The Parish Priest of Regina Pacis Catholic Church, Fr. Jean-Bosco Ntagungira, who headed the investigations into the lives of the Rugambas told The New Times that from the testimonies that had been gathered, it was evident that the family exemplified love and unity not only in the church but for every family and this made them be considered for sainthood.

“The particularity of this family is their love and unity they always showed towards each other till the end of their lives; that is why we are asking them to be made saints as a whole family,” Fr. Ntagungira has been quoted as saying.

The late Rugamba alongside his wife Daphrose, was among the 2018 Unity Award recipients, for playing a big role in fostering unity and fighting against discriminatory behavior of the genocidal regime.

The couple established a movement named “Communauté de l’Emmanuel” that was aimed at fostering unity and peace among Rwandans. 

Their initiative is said to have angered the former government, leading to the couple’s extermination alongside their six children.


Mr. Rugamba is also one of Rwanda’s most celebrated legends, having started a musical group called ‘Amasimbi n’Amakombe’ where he was known for composing songs such as ‘Umukinzi’, ‘Urungano’, and ‘Imenagitero’ among other songs that are sang today in the Rwandan Catholic Church.

Through “Communauté de l'Emmanuel”, the family is said to have preached unity and peace among Rwandans, to the point that the members of the community did not participate in the Genocide.

“This shows just how much they were an example to a community at large, and their actions have truly affected others,” Fr. Ntagungira said.

Agnes Kamatali, who was a close friend of the Rugambas, has been quoted as describing the family as loving and exemplary.

“I met Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba in January 1991, during Mass where they never ceased to talk about unity and kept reminding us to love one another, and forgive those who hurt us because they are also children of God,” Ms. Kamatali told The New Times.

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She added, “They had a way of living in harmony with their neighbors; they helped poor people, and helped other couples who were struggling, by providing counsel and helped them solve their marital problems.”

Ms. Kamatali recalled the memories of the family she has kept at heart saying, “To this date, every time I pray for them. To me, they are already saints because their actions changed my life and I still go by the principles I learnt from them 30 years ago.”

In 1992, the couple is said to have started an organization of taking care and feeding street children, which still exists now as Centre Cyprien et Daphrose Rugamba (CECYDAR), located South-East of Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali.

Jean-Baptiste Ndayambaje, an educator at CECYDAR, told The New Times that the idea of the centre was Daphrose Rugamba who, instead of turning away the street children who used to steal the potatoes she was selling, she decided to help and feed them and take care of them.

“The couple taught us to love these children, who are in the streets because they have not received love from where they come from, and they used to humble themselves in front of these children and offer them nothing but love. This taught us something as a community and to this date we go by their teachings about love,” Mr. Ndayambaje said.

Fr. Ntagungira said that the compilation of the testimonies from people who knew the family had been completed.

The Catholic Priest said, in reference to the family, “People who lived with them and knew them for their extraordinary works came forward and put in their request for the investigation to begin; when they presented evidence of how their lives changed because of the Rugambas, we started the journey of the investigations at the smallest level.”

The Catholic Church in Rwanda is said to have set up a committee overseeing the investigations with members including authors, auditors, defendants and an episcopal delegate. The work of the committee has been to authenticate the testimonies that had been collected in the initial stage.

“The process took many years because we had to interview a lot of people, and only one individual per day and each one of them has to answer more than 150 questions, and every testimony we receive is carefully laid out and processed and recorded,” Fr. Ntagungira added.

However, the journey for the family to be named saints is far from over, as the voluminous report that was finalized will now be sent to the Holy See for further review.

“Once the report is in Vatican there is a committee in charge that will carefully review it; in two or three years that is when we expect the answer; if positive the family will be named ‘venerable’ and after that, we wait for a miracle from them and they can be proclaimed by the Pope as the blessed and eventually become saints,” the Catholic Priest explained.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.