Fr. Richard Ho Lung is surrounded by dancers in one of the theatrical productions he performs to invite people to Christ. Photo courtesy of Missionaries of the Poor

Fr. Ho Lung’s people of hope

By 
  • November 27, 2020

If you’ve never heard the Lord’s Prayer set to Caribbean rhythm, with all the colourful vibrancy and distinctness of reggae percussion and vocals, then you’ve never heard the ministry of Fr. Richard Ho Lung.

Founder of Missionaries of the Poor (MOP), a pontifical order that began in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1981, the now 81-year-old priest seamlessly melds the weight and tradition of Catholic service with the relaxed vibe and coolness of the Jamaican culture into which he was born and bred.

After 40 years of feeding the world’s most destitute while performing in plays and recording Catholic reggae albums to invite people to Christ, all the while raising financial support for the missions, Ho Lung says he has put his trust and confidence in the Lord for His continued guidance and provision. With many people suffering across the world in a year of unprecedented challenges, he continues to stand in the faith, hope and positivity that has carried him through decades of ministry leadership across the globe.

“I want people to raise their hearts to God even in this time of difficulty,” said Ho Lung via Zoom in his signature Jamaican accent. “They must be a people of hope. We’ve got to be more and more focused on the life of Christ and the great, great promises that have been given to all of us.”

Since its inception, MOP has supported the elderly, mentally challenged, disabled, HIV-infected and now coronavirus patients. The ministry, maintained through donations and the work of volunteers and benefactors, has expanded to 10 impoverished nations, including Haiti, Indonesia, Uganda, India, the Philippines and Kenya.

With MOP offices located in Canada, the United States and United Kingdom, a large portion of the ministry’s funding over the years has come from the generous support of North Americans.  

Canada was the first nation outside Jamaica to welcome concerts and plays to raise funds, said Ho Lung.

“The evangelization and the cultural exchange have been tremendous. We’ve received every possible type of help you can imagine from Canadians. We’ve gotten funding, food, educational supplies, clothing and volunteers have come to us.”

Like many charities, Ho Lung says MOP has seen a significant dip in funding this year due to uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus. An outbreak at the homes in Kingston has intensified the situation there for the roughly 500 individuals in need. Thankfully, he says of the 75 clients who tested positive for COVID-19, all have recovered or are asymptotic and doing well. Of the brothers staffing the ministry, 22 have also tested positive with one remaining in serious condition.

Currently in the Philippines, what was supposed to be a short visit to the mission there early this year has turned into several months for Ho Lung who has not been able to return to Jamaica due to COVID-19 border closures. He has been staying closely connected with updates from the MOP team currently working on the ground in Jamaica. Though he longs to be back home, he’s confident that the faith and resilient spirit that has carried MOP all these years as an organization and as a people will help it through this crisis.

“I was telling the brothers here that in Jamaica when we cry, we end up singing a song as we cry and that spirit never, ever leaves us,” said Ho Lung, who has brought the songs of Jamaica to the missions in the Philippines as well. “I’ve heard of a number of very good friends who have suffered (from COVID-19), some in cases of death too. They are people of faith so there’s a sense that somehow God is going to carry us to a much, much better place, and we’re going to be shocked and surprised at how wonderful it is.”

Despite the challenges, Ho Lung has made the best of his time in the Philippines, training the young brothers in the ministry and writing 30 new songs and a new theatrical production. The team hopes that as the situation improves globally and restrictions are lifted to be able to bring the production around the world, including to the Greater Toronto Area with its large Jamaican diaspora who have supported MOP productions in the past.

“We have a lot of Jamaicans in our city and a lot of them are very aware of Fr. Ho Lung because I think he would be considered to many a national hero,” said Sera Rossi, president of MOP Canada and a former educator with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. “When he comes up here and he does a show, many people (in the Jamaican community) find out and come to watch. It’s absolutely beautiful to see. It’s all about helping (MOP) to do the work of helping the poor.”

Due to demands of the ministry and the various physical and cognitive conditions suffered by the population living at the Jamaican missions, it has been difficult to get residents to adhere to certain health protocols such as wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing. Despite challenges Ho Lung says he is grateful not to have lost any lives to date and is confident they will have the faith and the strength of character to get to the other side of this.

“Jamaican people are a different kind of people,” said Ho Lung. “They, they just keep on going.”

As MOP prepares to celebrate 40 years of ministry in 2021, Ho Lung says seeing God’s hand through the missions’ service to those in need has been and will continue to be the delight of his heart.  

“What I glory in the Lord in is the amazing work that He has allowed us to do,” said Ho Lung. “We have hundreds and hundreds of people that we care for. To see daily these people rising and having a breakfast prayer and just being joyful and peaceful having water and people to help to take care of them, that gives me absolutely the greatest joy. And then there are the brothers who give their lives over to the service of the poorest of people and that’s beautiful.

“Also, I can’t deny that the music has been a source of wonder.”

In addition to funding, Ho Lung says the greatest need for the mission in Jamaica and around the world is volunteers as many have been unable to serve due to concerns around transmitting the virus to vulnerable family members.

For information on MOP see canadahelps.org/en/charities/missionaries-of-the-poor-canada-inc/.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible, which has become acutely important amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.