Having weathered the harshest of storms, this Rwandan couple appears to be a model of mutual sanctification. Portrait by Amaury Guillem
Article originally published in Il est vivant! n°333
By Amaury Guillem
Cyprien Rugamba is a brilliant student and a poet. But misfortune befalls him when his fiancée Xaverine is murdered in interethnic massacres on 23 December 1963. Having rejected the faith sometime before, he now loses the love of his life. Darkness overtakes him. And it has not yet dissipated when he marries Daphrose Mukansanga, the niece of the missing bride. The marriage does not start well: Cyprien completely abandons his wife and thinks only of Xaverine, and tries to find her in the numerous extra-marital affairs. Daphrose, abandoned, gives birth to her first son, Joseph, who dies a day later. When her second son, Olivier, is born, Cyprien repudiates her, takes her back to her parents, and forbids her to keep the child. Understanding his mistake, he goes to look for her eight months later. But the couple’s relationship does not get any better.
The fruit of sacrifice
Daphrose, at the height of her misfortune, takes refuge in prayer. Married to Cyprian, she wants to remain faithful to this sacrament no matter what happens. She begged heaven. “She never criticized Cyprian,” says one of her friends, Thérèse, “she asked us to pray for his conversion! “. When told that she had a bad husband, Daphrose replied: “You can’t say that I have a bad husband. Just say I haven’t prayed enough for him.” While he spends his nights locked up in his pavilion in good female company, Daphrose, alone, offers hers, on her knees, in prayer, for Cyprian. Stabat Mater Dolorosa, she is like Mary, at the feet of this cross that Cyprian cannot bear. Several times he breaks crucifixes. Daphrose wants to pray more and sometimes succeeds, but she feels more and more a lukewarmness as if she is exhausted in a prayer of which she does not see the fruits. But she still hopes.
Until that day in 1982, when, after a long period of illness, the final blow came: “I was knocked off my pedestal like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus“, Cyprian confided. Touched in the heart and healed of all his ailments, he receives the visit of God. After 17 years, Daphrose got her life wish: Cyprian now burned with the love of God.
A new life
It was a radical change, but at the same time, it was the beginning of a journey, first in their relationship. Cyprian knows that he owes his conversion to the faithful prayer and sacrifices of Daphrose. “I beg your pardon; I change my life, I become your husband, and you become my wife. “Cyprian no longer sees her as a substitute for Xaverine or as the servant’s maid: he discovers and loves his wife. She forgives and welcomes this love which also burns her. They become inseparable, consulting each other on the slightest subject, holding hands all the time, even in public, which is not common in Rwandan culture. It is unusual for a husband to help his wife with the dishes, which Cyprien starts to do! Answering a friend surprised by this intense tenderness, they reply: “We’ve wasted too much time! “In their relationship, as in all other areas, they make it a rule never to criticize. “We have to baptize our language!“The other significant change is prayer. The spouses rebuild themselves under the gaze of God, go to Mass together, praise, adore and confess every week. They also ask each other for forgiveness, for the small things as well as the big ones. When Cyprian tells his wife about little Emerita’s existence, born of one of his former extramarital unions, Daphrose, whose heart is once again pierced, forgives again and welcomes the little girl into the family as her child.
A couple at the service of couples
Cyprien and Daphrose now have unwavering confidence in each other. One day, when a friend gets impatient because Daphrose is late, Cyprien, who used to be so quick to anger, replies: “You know, I trust her. If she doesn’t come, it’s because she has something more important to do! ” As for Daphrose, she now knows that Cyprian only wants what’s best for her: “Knowing that, even if I think the opposite of what he sometimes asks, helps me to obey him! “Together, the couple leave all their worries in God’s hands. Their health is fragile: they make it an occasion for praise. Because of his calls for peace in a context of latent war1 , Cyprien lost his high position in the Rwandan administration, and the family’s financial resources diminished. However, the couple continues to be generous, not hesitating to give money when it is needed.
One day, a letter announces that due to an unpaid loan, their house will be mortgaged. Instead of worrying, they went to praise the Lord in their chapel. At the end of the worship service, the phone rings, and Cyprian is invited to collect a sum of money that someone owes him. It was precisely the amount of credit he had to payback! Parents of 10 children experience the same abandonment when they learn that one of their sons has converted to Islam. For them, it is a tragedy, and they tell him so. But they continue to show him a lot of love, pray and fast for him. “You have to go forward trusting in the Lord,” Cyprian often explains. “When you drive at night, you can’t see the whole way, but the headlights gradually light up a short distance to the end of the journey. It’s the same for our lives: we have to live from day to day without worrying about what lies ahead, living in the present with the light that God gives us, and moving forward little by little.” This tenderness, this trust, this faith make them a radiant couple. More and more households in difficulty are confiding in them. Their home becomes a spiritual hospital, from which many couples emerge transformed. When divorce is very much frowned upon, they also receive single parents and accompany them, always with a concern for charity and truth. Poor people and the ministers come to their house, and all meet together to prepare the meal and pray.
- In Rwanda, the 1994 genocide was preceded by a civil war that began in the north of the country on 1 October 1990.
Prophets for peace
As war rages in Rwanda, people saw Cyprien and Daphrose as prophets of peace. They never stop praying for the conversion of hearts and calling for reconciliation. Their influence ends up disturbing those who sow hatred to serve political ambitions. Feeling that they would soon go to heaven, Cyprian and Daphrose prepared themselves. When the genocide began on 7 April 1994, the soldiers found them at home, praying. A few minutes later, Cyprien and Daphrose were murdered, along with the children present. The Rugambas, extraordinary witnesses of fidelity to the sacrament of marriage even in the most challenging trials, of hope in God who can heal all things, even the wounds of adultery, of conjugal love as a path of mutual sanctification, now shine down from heaven. They would still be holding hands.