Refusing to abandon the people she protected, Félicité chose to die alongside them. She gave meaning to the word sacrifice.
Universal sanctuaries, Rwandan parish churches were used for a long time as refuge for the Tutsi fleeing the massacres that preceded the genocide. Sadly, in 1994, these places of faith and peace became the scene of slaughters, such horror remains unthinkable. In this darkness, enlightened souls refused to die. The members of the clergy, who chose to help the refugees, did it without the support of their superiors, even sometimes completely disobeying them. These priests and nuns acted in the name of God: their message of hope and tolerance came back to us. Their courage was so exceptional that today; voices are rising so that these people are recognized as martyrs or saints. Those that Félicité saved during the genocide have demanded this since the end of the genocide.
Félicité Niyitegeka was born in 1934 in Vumbi, in the commune of Runyinya, in the prefecture of Butare1. The puisne of a family of 10 children, Félicité studied at the primary school of Astrida, then did her secondary studies in Save in a school managed by nuns. At the end of her studies in the 1950’s, Félicité was assigned as a teacher and supervisor in the north of the country, in the school of Muramba entrusted then to the “Auxiliaires de l’Apostolat”, also called “Demoiselles”. The curacy of Nyundo was just established and entrusted to the Rwandan bishop, His Grace Aloys Bigirumwami.
Born in a family with their faith having been tested – her father Simon Sekabwa was catechist-, Félicité became the first African woman to take up her vocation as Auxiliaires de l’Apostolat2. Destined to work closely with the bishop, the Auxiliaires de l’Apostolat were indeed called in Kinyarwanda “Abakobwa ba Musenyeri”, “the girls of the bishop”. His Grace Bigirumwami sent Félicité to Lourdes to be trained, where the World training centre of the Auxiliaries of the Apostolate is situated.
Back in Rwanda, Félicité became one of the figureheads of the Auxiliaires de l’Apostolat. First manager of the college “Notre-Dame d’Afrique” of Nyundo, the bishop sent her back to Lourdes in 1963, to go with her African sisters of the same order. She came back six years later and was appointed to the management of the Centre Saint Pierre, a diocesan centre for the training and retreat of the Auxiliaires de l’Apostolat. Her reputation crossed the border to Goma, in Zaire (ex-Democratic Republic of Congo), where she collaborated with her sisters of the same order.
1 Today, Vumbi has become Ryakibogo in the actual sector of Gishamvu in the District of Huye, in the South Provinde.
2 Félicité wasn’t a nun in the classical sense of the word, but a laywoman taking up the apostolic vocation of the Auxiliaries of the Apostolate. She was indeed the first African woman to be trained in Lourdes.