Three days of jubilation in Kigali! (3/3)

Friday 18th September to Sunday 20th September 2015 was for the Emmanuel Community three days of celebration over two exceptional events: the opening of the Cause for the Canonization of Cyprien Rugamba and Daphrose Mukasanga, the founders of the Emmanuel Community in Rwanda, and also the 25th Anniversary of the Community in Rwanda!

The beginning of the Community


Pierre-François and Christine Graffin are the Moderator’s of Delegates for Africa. Here Christine and gives her testimony.

We were fortunate to be present in Kigali as part of the international delegation.First of all, we were very touched by the fruits of the desire for holiness of Cyprien and Daphrose and of their commitment to serve Christ and others. One can literally touch these fruits when one sees how the brothers and sisters were affected by their example and are still living by it today. And one can also see the work that is being done through them.

The conversion of Cyprien

Cyprien was a well-known, recognized intellectual; a specialist in the culture of his country, a famous artist (composer, singer and choreographer), he produced a large body of work that is now part of the country’s heritage. Brought up as a Catholic, he lost his faith during his studies. In 1965, he married Daphrose, a woman of great faith, who was a little younger than he. Their life as a couple was very difficult for 17 years, during which Cyprien caused his wife much suffering. It was very hard for her, but Daphrose did not become disheartened and through all this time never stopped praying for her husband and for his conversion.

In 1982, after a strange unidentified disease which left him greatly weakened and humiliated and from which he was freed in an unexplained manner (by grace …) Cyprien experienced a sudden conversion. This caused a radical change in all areas of his life, especially in his marriage. The love which had died was completely reawakened and renewed, and they became a closely united couple, extremely complementary and above all radiant.

The change could be seen so clearly that many people were deeply affected by it. The man who had been arrogant and distant became simple and welcoming, open to all and very approachable. Brothers and sisters who knew them constantly emphasize how available, attentive and thoughtful they were to everyone, however important or humble.

They adopted the habit of entrusting everything to the Lord and being constantly filled with wonder at all He gives. “The Lord is wonderful,” Cyprien never stopped saying. In any situation he always tried to see the good side and the opportunity to advance.

The beginning of the Community

In 1989, during a trip to France, Cyprien and Daphrose discovered Paray-le-Monial, the Community and the Fraternity of Jesus. This made a huge impact on them. They returned home and, together with two other people including a Fidesco volunteer (Annick Bescond), they formed a little household, but there was as yet no Community. They were reluctant to embark on the adventure, but eventually they were encouraged by a word received in prayer: “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed … Now begin the work, and the Lord be with you!” (1Chr 22: 13-16) So, with the approval of the Council of the time, they organized the first Community Weekend on 22nd and 23rd September 1990.

From that time, Cyprien and Daphrose put all their energy into building up the Community. It quickly spread to other parts of the country. They ensured that it was the genuine Community and that it was really and deeply living all its graces. Their desire for holiness was contagious; they were very demanding and paid particular attention to fraternal communion.

This was all the more important since, at that time, the country was in a particularly difficult situation, with bitter and very serious ethnic tension between Tutsis and Hutus. This was also the time when the Blessed Virgin appeared in Kibeho, calling Ruanda to conversion. This met with some indifference, but not on the part of Cyprien and Daphrose. It is very striking to see how the beginning of the Community was closely associated not only with the history of the country and the start of the violence that led to a particularly gruesome genocide four years later, but also with the apparitions.

The Community was the only place in which members of the different ethnic groups came together in a fraternal relationship lived close to Jesus Christ. Cyprien and Daphrose constantly insisted on this and on compassion towards everyone. Among other things, they started a centre for street children that is still in existence.

Cyprien, who was listened to in the political world, tried to use his influence to silence the calls for murder broadcast on radio and to remove the mention of ethnicity on identity cards, for example, but in vain. They laboured tirelessly to consolidate the Community in the early years and this was fortunate since their commitment to peace had put them at the top of a list of people to be eliminated. On April 7th 1994, the first day of the genocide, they were killed together with six of their 10 children. At the time, they were praying before the Blessed Sacrament.

The Community then scattered. A number of brothers and sisters were killed. Others had to flee to neighbouring countries or elsewhere. Then a time of terrible suffering began for everyone in Rwanda. But wherever the brothers and sisters found themselves, even in the most difficult circumstances, tried to live and to share what they had learned.

Since that time, the Community has never stopped growing and is still doing so. Today, it has 1,000 members. Last year 96 members made their commitments, and over a hundred this year. In letters that are deeply moving, brothers and sisters of all ages and from all walks of life very beautifully express their commitment to the Community and their deep desire for holiness.

The Community is present in almost every Diocese, organizing many prayer groups and a wide range of apostolates. Always listening to people, it tries to meet the needs of the population.

Shortly before he decided to join the Community, and while he was still hesitating, on two occasions Cyprien heard a small voice saying to him: “Through you I will perform a work of redemption.” And that is what has happened. As a result of all the suffering endured by this country where the entire population was affected by the massacres, the slaughter within families and in villages where people who lived together and knew one another had killed one another, there was no longer any hope. People could not believe that coexistence was possible any more.

However, in the Community this fraternal life was still there and was a very powerful, very concrete, sign of hope. The Community worked and continues to work to heal these wounds which are so deep. By the simple witness of its way of life but also by its works and the things it organizes. She is recognized for this by the Church and beyond.

We wanted to share all this with you because, in another form, it is the story of the loaves and fishes all over again for today.

We can see, and even experience, the spread of the “Yes” of Cyprien and Daphrose, a yes which was not so easy at first, but which relied on trust in a God who acts, “Who is wonderful,” to repeat Cyprien’s expression. It was a yes which relied on trust in the Word of God. A “little” yes, one might say. They did not make great plans. They gathered together a little group of people to humbly start the Community; humbly but radically, and with a great desire for holiness.

It seems to me that, in our world which is so complicated and confused, we can really rely on them to advance and strengthen our own desire for holiness and to try to find where the Lord is waiting for each of us today.

Christine Graffin
Moderator’s Delegate for Africa together with her husband Pierre-François

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