· Vatican City ·


A former missionary, who founded the Kizito Family in Haiti

Paisie, and the second calling

 Paisie, seconda chiamata  DCM-002
03 February 2024

In Haiti, children constitute one-third of the population exceeding eleven million. Their existence is marked by precariousness, with many being born into dire circumstances only to perish prematurely. They fall victim to the relentless scourge of poverty's signature ailment: hunger. Additionally, they face the harsh reality of inadequate resources to shield themselves from the frequent onslaught of natural calamities. Perhaps most harrowing is their susceptibility to exploitation by over two hundred armed gangs, remnants of the Duvalier regime's tyranny. In the absence of effective governance, these gangs vie ruthlessly for control, perpetuating a cycle of violence that engulfs innocent lives. The demand for fresh recruits to replenish their ranks is ceaseless, and minors become expendable pawns in this grim game. The youngest among them are thrust into roles as lookouts, awaiting their turn to be thrust into battle, while young girls are coerced into servitude as domestic workers or, worse yet, as objects of sexual exploitation. Tragically, these tender lives find themselves ensnared in an invisible yet brutal conflict, largely ignored by the broader world, within the most beleaguered corner of the Western hemisphere.

Every time Sister Paesie met their black, fringed eyes on the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince she thought of the cruel fate that hung over those tiny bodies. And she did not give herself peace. More and more often she was reminded of an episode from the life of Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, a congregation she had belonged to since she was 18 years old. The “Saint of Calcutta” told of hearing the Lord whisper to her: 'Be my light. The poor do not know Me, and therefore they do not love Me. You, take Me to them'. “It was as if those words were addressed to me. Only, instead of the poor, he asked me to take him to the street children of Haiti”, says Sister Paesie, born Claire Joelle Phillipe in French Lorraine and resident on the island since 1999. “In the end, I could no longer ignore his request and I talked about it with the superiors. I thought, I hoped, that I could do something about it within the congregation. But together we realised it was not possible since the latter was dedicated full-time to caring for the sick. So I began a path of discernment through the Ignatian exercises. And I realised that the Lord was asking me to be free to follow his second call. It was not easy to come to this realisation. I was certain that Jesus was asking me to do something for the street children. But I was not sure that leaving the Missionaries of Charity was the right choice. The very idea frightened me”.

It's hard to believe that this woman, who fearlessly navigates the perilous streets of Cité Soleil and Martissant amidst the crossfire of gang warfare, could harbor any semblance of fear. Familiar faces affectionately dub her “Maman Soleil,” acknowledging her unwavering dedication to venturing into the heart of conflict to rescue her beloved children. Yet, she humbly refutes any claims of bravery, her petite face adorned with a gentle smile as she confides, “I am not brave at all.” She attributes her courage to a higher power, asserting, “He is the one who leads me where I need to go. The Lord not only revealed His will to me but also bestowed upon me the grace to trust in Him.” Recounting the most arduous moment of her journey, she recounts the difficulty of confiding in her fellow sisters. While some embraced her decision with understanding albeit tinged with sorrow, others struggled to comprehend. Nevertheless, she remains resolute, reaffirming, “I was compelled to follow His will.”

Thus, in 2017, the Kizito Family, honoring the memory of a 14-year-old martyr from Uganda, was established. On June 3, 2018, it gained official recognition as a “Pious Association of the Faithful,” marking the initial step towards the formation of a new religious community at the diocesan level. Sister Paesie embarked on this journey independently, laying its cornerstone in Village de Dieu, nestled in the heart of Martissant. Here, she initiated the inception of a school mere months before the onslaught unleashed by the gang led by Johnson Alexandre, known as Izo. Undeterred by the chaos of conflict, the endeavor pressed on. Amidst the turmoil, five other young Haitian women joined Sister Paesie, united in their mission to shield the vulnerable children left neglected in the wake of violence. Their strategy? “To defend the children by leading them into the sanctuary of the classroom.”

In Haiti, over 80 percent of educational institutions are privately operated, where tuition fees ranging from one hundred to one thousand dollars. Additionally, the expenses for books, supplies, and uniforms further strain a family’s resources. Consequently, nearly half of the children are deprived of access to primary education. The six schools established by the Kizito Family, strategically positioned in the forefront of Martissant and Cité Soleil, cater to these marginalized children.  “We enroll children aged 8 to 18 who have never stepped foot in a classroom due to poverty—the very ones targeted by gangs for recruitment,” explains Sister Paesie. The schools provide them with a shield against exploitation. Even the gangs acknowledge this: “They are not for us,” they concede upon seeing the children in their distinctive uniforms.  In addition to the schools, the Kizito Family operates five shelters for orphaned children and the growing population of young girls fleeing from gang leaders. To date, 2,700 children have been rescued from the clutches of gang violence. However, “Maman Soleil” remains tirelessly committed, declaring, “There are still too many in the shadows, waiting to be brought into the light.”

by Lucia Capuzzi
Journalist with the Italian daily “Avvenire”