Jesus at the end of His Sermon on the Mount from the Missionaries of the Poor’s production of The Messiah. Photo by Frank Ryder

Joyful service takes on a reggae beat

By 
  • June 27, 2015

TORONTO - Toronto has never heard the Gospel told like this.

From July 3 to 5, the award-winning musical The Messiah, presented by the Missionaries of the Poor, will be at Cardinal Carter Academy. The musical tells the story of the life of Christ through an upbeat reggae production written by Fr. Richard Ho Lung, founder of the Missionaries of the Poor.

Ho Lung said that much like the spirituality of the congregation, the musical is about joy.

“We have a spirituality called joyful service of Christ on the cross... and music is the expression of that joy,” he said. “Deep sorrow, deep joy... out of the crucified Christ comes the Resurrection and so, that expresses itself very much in the drama.”

Ho Lung describes the music as very Jamaican, very modern, but also deeply rooted in spirituality. Like many of his musicals, the script and the story usually comes first, and the music naturally flows from there. He said that often inspiration for the music comes from feelings and dreams.

“The music tends to come really very easy,” he said. “As I’m writing the music, the themes run through my mind... I find that a lot of times when I try to suppress the music, I can’t sleep. Not until I have gotten it out, I can’t sleep.”

The song Ho Lung wrote in the scene of Mary’s Annunciation was inspired by a dream. When he woke, a melody stayed with him as he went about his daily work.

“That call came very strongly to me,” he said. “I think about what I want to say, how did Mary feel, what was it like to have the angel appear to her.”

Ho Lung admits he doesn’t read music, nor does he play an instrument. What he lacks in technical training, however, he makes up for in passion and the support of his cast and crew.

After he writes the script and the basic melody of the score, he brings it to brothers Winton and Jon Williams. Winton, who also plays the role of Jesus in the musical, is the music director. He creates the harmonies while Jon composes the orchestral accompaniment. Choreographer Paula Shaw then incorporates the movement of the music to the movement of the players on stage.

The Missionaries of the Poor has performed The Messiah in different cities around the world for about 15 years now. The musical company is made up of about 30 cast and crew and Ho Lung said the spirit of the production is still as vibrant as when it was first performed in 2000.

Ho Lung and his musical company have been travelling and performing original shows for about 44 years — which predates the founding of the Missionaries of the Poor in Jamaica by 10 years. Now, the tours raise money and awareness for the congregation’s mission.

But this is only part of the work the congregation does. The Missionaries of the Poor provide homes and shelters for the homeless and destitute and has missions in many developing countries. “

Over the years God has been very good to us. We opened very, very big missions in Haiti, Kenya, Uganda, Indonesia and also in India,” said Ho Lung. “We take care of the homeless and the destitute. They live with us at our centres... we bring them into the life of Christ.”

Ho Lung, who many have called the “Father Teresa of Jamaica,” founded the Missionaries of the Poor in 1981 in the slums of Jamaica. The congregation received official papal recognition just last April. He said that although it is a small congregation, it is growing every year.

Tickets for The Messiah and more information about the Missionaries of the Poor can be found at missionariesofthepoor.org

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