Sister Marguerite, Rwandan sister killed in Yemen, was a surrogate mother for her family

by Lilian Muendo


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Mukantakirutimana Devota was only 13 years old when her mother died in 1995. Devota was very close to her sister, Sister Marguerite, who stepped into the role of a mother for Devota and their siblings.

"I never felt like an orphan," said Devota, whose father died in 2003. "She wrote letters to me every month to ask how I was faring and [about] the rest of my siblings. She also called frequently to talk to me."

Sister Marguerite was one of four Missionaries of Charity sisters killed by gunmen March 4 in Yemen. She was 44. The other three sisters were Sister Reginette, who was also from Rwanda, Sister Anselm from India, and Sister Judith from Kenya.

"When she died, everyone in the community said I had lost a mother once again," Devota said. "I was devastated."

Devota said the last time she saw her sister was in 2011: Sister Marguerite had come home to visit, and Devota was very ill, having miscarried her first child.

"She took care of me, comforted me and cooked for me until I recovered," Devota said. "She did not leave my sight, and the rest of my siblings had to come to my house to see her. Usually when she came home, she visited each one of us in our houses."

Sister Marguerite was born Anathalie Mukashema, the sixth of 10 children, on April 29, 1971, in Gitarana, Rwanda. She professed her first vows on Dec. 9, 1995, in Nairobi and traveled to Rome for her final vows on May 24, 2003.

"I have only one desire: to be always in God's presence and hear and satiate his cry of thirst more, doing always whatever he tells me to do through Mary," she wrote when she professed her vows.

She moved to the Amman region in Jordan after she professed her final vows in 2003, then in 2008 moved to Yemen, where she served until gunmen attacked the retirement home run by her community, killing the four sisters and 12 other people.

Bizimana Antoine, Sister Marguerite's elder brother, said their parents supported her fully when she decided to join the Missionaries of Charity in 1991.

"Our parents, especially our father, were very receptive to the idea and didn't oppose her decision much," Antoine said. "My father provided all the basic requirements that she needed to get started as a sister."

In a letter to Missionaries of Charity all over the world, Sister Mary Prema, the superior general, described Sister Marguerite as a "special sister in the community, always seeing the needs of others, joyful and responsible." She wrote that Sister Marguerite stood for the truth, was hard-working, and had zeal for souls and love for the poor.

Devota echoed Prema's sentiments. In an emotional interview with Global Sisters Report, Devota said that from a young age, Sister Marguerite was humble and kind to all in the local community.

"She showed respect to all people," Devota said. "The elderly loved her very much because she always assisted them, and she taught us all how to pray in the family."

In her last letters to Devota before her death, Sister Marguerite had written that the situation was volatile in Yemen because of war. Devota pleaded with her to come home, but Sister Marguerite said she had to remain in Yemen to take care of the elderly who were bedridden.

Devota said on Feb. 29, days before Sister Marguerite's death, she and her husband had heard from international television news that the situation in Yemen had worsened. They decided to call Sister Marguerite.

"We wanted to talk to her [at length] and get the real picture," Devota said. "We bought sufficient airtime and called her. We talked for almost one hour."

Devota said Sister Marguerite told them that things were bad, but all would be well because they were praying. Devota asked to speak to Sister Reginette, who was also from Rwanda. Sister Reginette told Devota that things were not looking good in Yemen but assured her that all would be well.

Devota said there was nothing she could do then but pray. She remained worried until Sister Paschal from the Kigali Missionaries of Charity convent told her of the sisters' deaths four days later.

"She cried very much and said she wanted to die, too," Sister Paschal told GSister "She questioned why God had taken away all the good people from her life: her parents and then now her sister, who the family had depended on since the death of their parents."

According to testimony from Sister Sally, the superior of the community and the only sister who survived the attack, the gunmen tied the victims' hands behind their backs and shot them in the head. In total, 16 people were killed. None of the patients were harmed.

During the attack, Sister Sally said she hid behind the door of a refrigerator room. After the gunmen left, she rushed out, looking for the four sisters. She found Sister Marguerite, Sister Judith and Sister Reginette face-down in the garden behind the sacristy. Sister Anselm was lying on her side.

The four sisters were buried March 9 in a cemetery in Aden, Yemen, where three sisters killed in Hodeidah in 1998 are also buried.

[Lilian Muendo is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.]