Fr. Peter Miti
Fr. Peter Miti

Fr. Peter Miti vividly recalls his life in Zambia, Africa. One of 10 children, Peter completed primary and high school in his native country. But all around him, he saw poverty, disease and a deteriorating quality of life for thousands of people in Africa and he wanted to help.

A large part of the problem was HIV and AIDS was taking Africa by storm – neighbors and friends became ill and died, leaving by the thousands, young children parentless, homeless and penniless. Little children were left to fend for themselves and begged in the streets for food and money. Grandparents could only take so many of their grandchildren in, because they also relied on financial support in their waning years from their now deceased children.

Fr. Peter had a strong calling to join the Catholic priesthood. He became a member of the Passionists Order in neighboring Botswana in 1995, and worked with AIDS patients. He counseled them on the effects of the disease, how they should prepare for death and what they should do to protect and provide for their children legally and financially in their absence.

“This was a time when there was no medication for AIDS to prolong life or help to ease the side effects. Also there was a stigma or taboo attached to the disease. People didn’t want to admit or acknowledge they had AIDS because that would mean they were dying. Many waited until they were just skin and bones and at the end of their lives before being tested,” Fr. Peter says.

The public medical clinics weren’t prepared – and the medical staff wasn’t trained – for the overwhelming number of people who contracted HIV and AIDS.

The disease plaguing the Sub Sahara Africa, which includes many African nations such as Zambia and Botswana, is staggering.

According to UNAIDS.com, “an estimated 1.9 million people were newly infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa in 2007, bringing to 22 million the number of people living with HIV. Two thirds (67%) of the global total of 32.9 million people with HIV live in this region, and three quarters (75%) of all AIDS deaths in 2007 occurred there.”

As Fr. Peter points out, even more devastating are the 11.6 million orphaned children in that area.

When he first got involved with helping AIDS patients, Fr. Peter says the public clinics treated all illnesses essentially with the same medicine, so if a patient had tuberculosis or AIDS or some other illness, they received the same prescription and were sent home. There were no expensive tests, and for the most part, no medicine that was effective.

Because the quality of medical care in these clinics was poor, sick people were spending all their money at the end of their life to go to private medical clinics for treatment, even though very little could be done for them.

Fr. Peter developed a six-week “crash course” for those who were close to dying, so they – and their families – would be prepared. He thought of the course after a dear friend who was a lieutenant in the military contracted the disease – he was tested only after it was too late to do anything for him.

Instead of private hospitals, which were expensive, Peter got them into Hospice, where they would be cared for until they died. Many patients asked him why they’d contracted the disease and why they were being “punished” by God.

“I talked to the patients about death. I told them where they are going is a beautiful place. They came to have a level of acceptance, and realize that with AIDS, death was imminent. In the end, I assured them that they were going to be ok – and helped to make sure their families would be too,” Fr. Peter says.

Fr. Peter, still a part of the Passionists Order, decided he wanted to move home and become ordained in the Catholic Diocese in Zambia. But that was too unconventional for the Bishop in Zambia. He noted Fr. Peter was then 29-years-old – too old, in the Bishop’s opinion, to become a priest in his diocese.

“Most people who become priests in Zambia go straight out of high school and after 7 or 8 years, they are ordained a priest by the time they are 26 years old,” Fr. Peter says. “The Bishop said at 29 years old that I was too old. So I said ok, I will try someplace else.”

He realized the rules in America aren’t the same for priests.

Fr. Peter moved to Hawaii on Nov. 28, 2001, to join a newly forming Oratory order, thanks in part to Fr. Halbert Weidner, then the pastor at Holy Trinity in Hawaii Kai. Fr. Hal also helped recruit and fund the training for other young priests from China, the Philippines and Africa to his developing Oratory.

Rome was the next stop for Fr. Peter, where he studied for two years under Pope John Paul II. In 2005, when he returned to Hawaii, the Oratory group was dissolving, so he joined the Catholic Diocese. Fr. Peter served as associate pastor at St. John Vianney Church in Kailua and now is on Kauai at St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish.

Fr. Peter inspires his parishioners with dynamic sermons and his charismatic personality. At St. John Vianney School, he regularly spoke with children daily in Kindergarten through grade 8 and told  them stories about children in Africa, admittedly a sharp contrast to the children’s upbringing in Hawaii.

One story in particular inspired his parishioners to reach across the globe to help Fr. Peter assist the people of Zambia, even in small ways. They are doing so through Fr. Peter’s brother, George Miti – a family man who also once considered become a priest.

George Miti


George, like Fr. Peter’s other 8 brothers and sisters, still lives in Zambia. Sadly George contracted HIV and tuberculosis over a decade ago. Fr. Peter sent his brother most of his modest stipend to help George get the medical attention and medicine he needed. Now 32, George works and provides for his wife and two children. While George didn’t become a priest, he realized he could use his personal experience to help others with HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis.

George, like Fr. Peter’s other 8 brothers and sisters, still lives in Zambia. Sadly George contracted HIV and tuberculosis over a decade ago. Fr. Peter sent his brother most of his modest stipend to help George get the medical attention and medicine he needed. Now 32, George works and provides for his wife and two children. While George didn’t become a priest, he realized he could use his personal experience to help others with HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis.

In 2006, George started a charity to help patients with tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. He named his charity “Pela Lubuto” or “Give Hope.” Six patients at a time move into his home. He takes them to the doctor, purchases and gives them their medicine and cooks for them until they can get well enough to go back to their own home.

George struggles to raise the money he needs to keep the charity operation going. One big expense is transportation to take the patients to the hospital. Currently George has to take a taxi, which is expensive, or impose on friends to take his patients to the doctor. George also needs funding for certain basic foods that help the patients absorb the medicine – and the medicine itself.

When a handful of St. John Vianney’s parishioners heard George’s story, they wanted to help and have contributed to George’s charity through Fr. Peter. They are hoping to raise $10,000 for a used car to transport the patients and other money to help buy food and medicine for George’s patients. They like the idea of their money going to someone they know who will be helped directly and immediately. Fr. Peter says he is grateful and humbled by the kindness of his parishioners.

While Fr. Peter pursues his calling in the priesthood in Hawaii, he’s also found a way to follow Mother Teresa’s advice: “Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.”

To reach Fr. Peter, email him at mailto:mitipeter@yahoo.com

Reach Malia Zimmerman, editor, at mailto:Malia@hawaiireporter.com

This is part of the Hawaii Heroes series. To nominate someone for this column, please write to mailto:Malia@hawaiireporter.com and include your contact information and why you believe that person is a Hawaii Hero.

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Malia Zimmerman is the editor and co-founder of Hawaii Reporter. She has worked as a consultant and contributor to several dozen media outlets including ABC 20/20, FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, UPI and the Washington Times. Malia has been listed as one of the nation’s top "Web Proficients, Virtuosi, and Masters" and "Hawaii's new media thought leader" by http://www.thewebstersdictionary.com Reach her at Malia@hawaiireporter.com