Italian nun killed in Haiti said she stayed there so poor could count on someone

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“To be able to count on someone is important in order to live! And witnessing that you can count on the solidarity that comes from faith and love of God is the greatest gift we can offer.”

An Italian nun who dedicated her life to caring for poor children in Haiti was killed Saturday.

Her home diocese of Milan reported that the Lombardy native, Sister Luisa Dell’Orto, 64, was injured “during an armed aggression, probably with the aim of robbery,” in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

She died at the hospital shortly afterwards, just two days shy of her 65th birthday.

Pope Francis mentioned her heroic life on Sunday after he prayed the midday Angelus:

I would like to express my closeness to the relatives and fellow sisters of Sister Luisa Dell’Orto, a Little Sister of the Gospel of Saint Charles de Foucauld, who was killed yesterday in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. For twenty years, Sister Luisa lived there, dedicated above all to serving children on the streets.

I entrust her soul to God, and I pray for the Haitian people, especially for the least, so they might have a more serene future, without misery and without violence. Sister Luisa made a gift of her life to others even to martyrdom.

By referring to Sister Luisa as a martyr, the Pope brings to mind his 2017 teaching on the path to canonization.

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While the Church has traditionally refers to martyrs only as those who lose their lives at the hands of an aggressor acting “in hatred of the faith,” in 2017, the Holy Father broadened the pathway to canonization to include those who give their lives in charity, as Jesus says no one has “greater love” than he who gives his life for another.

This new path resembles that of martyrdom inasmuch as it refers to giving one’s life, but not due to violence caused by “hate of the faith” (odium fidei), but rather, as an “heroic act of charity.” 

To count on me

Last year, Sister Luisa wrote of her decision to continue her work in Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western world and plagued by violence and natural disasters.

“You will tell me I am a bit crazy. Why stay here? Why expose yourself to ‘risk’? What is the point of living in such discomfort? Wouldn’t it be better for people to solve their own problems?

“To be able to count on someone is important in order to live! And witnessing that you can count on the solidarity that comes from faith and love of God is the greatest gift we can offer.”

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Sister Luisa was a member of the Little Sisters of the Gospel, a religious community inspired by St Charles de Foucauld, and had lived in Port-au-Prince for more than two decades.

Maria Adele Dell’Orto, Sister Luisa’s biological sister, told Vatican News:

“She was aware that something might happen … because it’s obvious, even in her last letter she said so, that the situation was very difficult. But she was keen to stay and bear witness.”

Maria Adele was comforted by the fact that her sister had followed the path taken by St Charles. “In these hours, I think of how she always lived in the footesteps of Charles de Foucauld, and today I think that she died like him.”

Haiti’s woes

In August of 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, Haiti was severely affected by a major earthquake.

That came just a month after the president was assassinated.

The 2021 earthquake more powerful than the quake in 2010 that killed more than 220,000 people, and from which the island still was struggling to rebuild.

Criminal gangs add to the misery. Last year, for example, a gang kidnapped several priests in Haiti and then 17 North American Christian missionaries and their families who were visiting an orphanage outside the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. 

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