The text (in French) by Mrs Mukundente Ariane
Today’s Friday of gratitude honours Mrs. Félicité Niyitegeka, our national heroine.
Félicité Niyitegeka was born in 1934 in Vumbi, in the former commune of Runyinya, Butare prefecture, now Huye. She attended primary school at Astrida School and continued her secondary education in Save in the nuns. As soon as she finished her studies, she became a teacher and supervisor at the secondary school of Muramba under the aegis of the Auxiliary of the Apostolate.
Coming from a Christian family, she was the first African to join the ranks of the Auxiliaries of the Apostolate, commonly called, in the local language, “Abakobwa ba Musenyeri”. At the same time, Monsignor Aloys Bigirumwami became the first Rwandan bishop of the recently created Vicariate of Nyundo. Mrs. Niyitegeka thus became auxiliary under the Apostolate of Monsignor Bigirumwami.
The latter sent her to a seminar in Lourdes at the World Training Center of the Auxiliaries of the Apostolate. Back in Rwanda, Mrs. Niyitegeka was appointed Manager of Lycée Notre-Dame d’Afrique in Nyundo. In 1963, in charge of other African auxiliaries, she accompanied them to Lourdes and spent six years there. After this long stay in France, she returned to Rwanda and was appointed Director of the Centre Saint Pierre, the diocesan center for trainings and retreat of the Auxiliaries of the Apostolate.
Mrs. Félicité Niyitegeka is a public figure known for heroically refusing to hand over to the militia the people who had taken refuge in her centre during the genocide against the Tutsis in April 1994. She experienced death at their side despite the intervention of her brother who was a soldier,who asked her to save herself. During this difficult period, she was able to serve this God to whom she had dedicated her life, until the ultimate sacrifice.Indeed, the Centre Saint-Pierre was a real refuge for the people who sheltered there. Everyone was welcome, and no one was ever pushed back.
Mrs. Niyitegeka, together with all the other Auxiliaries of the Apostolate, managed to feed the refugees with the products collected in the fields adjoining the Center. The Centre was also receiving many wounded and Ms. Niyitegeka was not afraid to brave the militiamen to get the necessary medicines to provide care.
Mrs. Niyitegeka looked for a way to evacuate as many people as possible to the Congo. By bribing the soldiers at the Gisenyi barrier, she managed to save about forty people. While attempting another evacuation on 20 April, Interahamwe militiamen stormed the Centre. He was ordered to separate from his protégés, but Mrs. Niyitegeka categorically refused to comply and even demanded that she be killed in their place..
Instead, they were loaded into a van that headed for “the Red Commune”, where several people were killed. Knowing that their fate was sealed, Mrs. Niyitegeka sang religious music and prayer. On the way, the militiamen begged her out, but she refused again. At the “Red Commune”, mass graves were already being dug.
Six Auxiliaries of the Apostolate and twenty-four people were coldly shot. Mrs. Niyitegeka was massacred last. After this despicable act, the bodies were all thrown into the pits.
Bravery was in her DNA and a family affair, as she is the older sister of another Friday’s Gratitude hero, Dr. Laurien Ntezimana. What an exceptional family! The latter had great admiration for his sister whom he described in these few words:
“I venture to speak for the first time of my ‘Blessed’ Felicity. I call her blessed, not because she would have been proclaimed as such by the Catholic Church whom she loved as her Mother and for whom she surrendered herself body and soul, – The Church which will finally recognize her as holy, I have little doubt about it – I call her blessed simply because I consider her to be holy: during her lifetime, I have always seen her pacified and radiant, never dolent or dejected. I was not there at the time of his supreme testimony.
But I am absolutely certain that it was in a sublime moment of oblation, consciously and filled with gratitude, that she offered her life. Offered his life as a sign of refusal to be separated from those who had just been murdered. Offered her life also as a sign of protest against so much waste and to force the killers to become aware of their misdeeds. Did she manage to touch their hardened hearts? Surely, at least for a few who were astonished by so much “naivety” combined with so much fearlessness. »
What more can I say?
Simply: Félicitée Niyitegeka, niyubahwe!