A light that never extinguishes

In Gisenyi, the genocide started the 7th of April 1994. For three days, a training session was held in the Centre Saint-Pierre, and gathered young girls, Hutu and Tutsi. Although the massacres didn’t reach the area where the centre is, Félicité recognized the danger immediately. She comforted the girls by encouraging them to pray and not loose courage. What she learnt from the massacres outside, Félicité kept to herself, to protect the inhabitants and prevent any tension within the community. For some time, she managed to isolate the centre. She was the only one to answer the phone or open the doorway. The presence of Tutsi was, for the moment, unknown.

However the Centre Saint-Pierre became little by little a real peace haven for all those fleeing the genocide. “We welcomed everyone, and no one was rejected”, tells a sister of the same order. A survivor explains that Félicité welcomed his family, and “appeased their heart”. The Auxiliaires de l’Apostolat fed the refugees thanks to the crops from the field of the centre. When the food was lacking, Félicité went to the market. She asked the Hutu girls, who were not directly targeted by the slaughters, to go back home, to spare some money. Furthermore, many refugees were wounded; Félicité was in charge of buying the medicine, especially to heal the children, victims of machete blows. The rumour saying that the centre was a place of protection increased with the number of refugees. Félicité opened all the houses of the centre to them. People were hiding everywhere, even in the ceiling. Félicité walked at night in the courtyard, checking on the safety of all the people under her protection.

When the Interahamwe1 militia came to the centre, Félicité opened the door to them alone and told them there was no one. They came back time and again. Unfortunately, the slaughters draw closer and the presence of Tutsi in the centre wasn’t a secret anymore. After learning that, Félicité immediately looked for a solution to evacuate the most vulnerable. She managed to bribe the soldiers controlling the roadblock of Gisenyi, and convinced them to let the people she would send them pass. Twice, Félicité enabled around twenty Tutsi to cross the border to Zaire. A survivor explains: “She opened a passage in the fence and we went through it. After twenty minutes, we were already in Zaire”. The 20th of April, another group was supposed to leave. However, we learn that because they knew about these escapes, the Interahamwe were preparing actively to attack the centre.

1 The Interahamwe are a militia created in 1992 by the MRND, the party of president Juvénal Habyarimana. Interahamwe means “those who fight together” in Kinyarwanda, the Rwandan language. They are responsible for most of the massacres during the genocide in 1994.