“The ghetto priest of the Caribbean” founded the Missionaries of the Poor and discovered a way to combine his award-winning musical talent with his service to the needy. He recently spoke with Register correspondent Karen Walker.
Walker: What prompted you to found the Missionaries of the Poor?
Several things: the homelessness and destitution in Kingston, Jamaica, and the increase in poverty. We now have 115 members — 10 priests and 105 brothers.
I have worked and lived in the ghettos for the last 20 years. I write a weekly column in The Gleaner newspaper called “Diary of a Ghetto Priest.”
The charism of our institute is to live and work in the ghettos with the homeless and destitute. We take a fourth vow of free service to the least of our brothers and sisters.
You have won awards for your compositions. What sort of music do you specialize in?
The music of Father Richard Ho Lung and Friends is basically Caribbean, featuring reggae, mento, soca, calypso, revival and dance hall rhythms. It's varied. I compose all of our recordings and they are performed by our group, which is 28 years old.
The music is deeply worshipful but extremely modern, filled with percussion instruments as well as conventional Western instruments. We have played to filled-to-capacity audiences in the Caribbean, the United States, Canada and England, including more than 100 overseas tours.
Tell me about your recent Jesus 2000 musical play for the Jubilee Year.
I wrote all the music in just two hours. Meditating on Our Lord's passionate and miraculous presence on earth opened up melodies and rhythms and lyrics that were clear and beautiful, and full of conviction. More than 20 songs for Jesus 2000 were poured into my heart and mind in two wonderful hours.
We encountered problems during the creation of this musical, but performed for more than 30,000 people during its opening weekend in the largest arena in Kingston, Jamaica. Each night was sold out. When the production burst forth on the stage, everyone was shocked, awed and dazzled.
No one, including me, the managers and the technicians, had any idea it would be so fantastic.
People wept, laughed and were thrilled to death! I could not believe the crowds, the feeling of relief and joy as the audiences and our own selves witnessed the fulfillment of Jesus 2000.
What continues to motivate you to do the work you do?
My love of God and the poor. I have a deep desire to see the Catholic Church spread, especially in its covenant with the poor based on Jesus' promise: “I have come to preach good news to the poor.” I want the Church to return to Christ's undying love and readiness to sacrifice himself so that others might live, especially the poor and forgotten.
What are your plans?
To open more homes for the destitute and homeless, for children in danger, the sick and the dying, for people with AIDS who are terminally ill. We do not receive any government subsistence for our poor and cannot do so because of rules and regulations.
We opened missions in India, Haiti, the Philippines and Uganda, Africa, for people who are sick with leprosy, for the mentally ill, for old folk and others who live on the streets and are homeless. We all run free schools for poor village children.
I think it is terribly important that Catholics begin to work together, that missionaries be sent out, lay as well as religious, to show God's love to those in the poor and forgotten countries.
At present, the Missionaries of the Poor priests and brothers serve the poor in four countries.
In addition to these, the Missionaries also offer the spiritual works of mercy such as retreats, missions, music workshops, liturgy and catechesis.
All the services of the Missionaries are given freely without any charge. Support comes mainly from donations and gifts made by individuals, companies and Church groups.
Naga City, Philippines
E Basic education and feeding for slum children. This includes orphans and disabled children, crippled and incapacitated adults, sick elderly and AIDS patients.
E Care of the mentally ill.
E Care of shutins.
E Four shelters for the homeless where more than 400 destitute persons are sheltered and cared for permanently. This includes orphans and disabled children, crippled and incapacitated adults, sick elderly and AIDS patients.
E Feeding program for more than 200 poor families.
E Building and repairing houses of the poor in the ghetto.
E Night shelter for street people.
E Permanent shelter and care for 160 homeless people, including children and AIDS patients. This includes orphans and disabled children, crippled and incapacitated adults, sick elderly and AIDS patients.
E Feeding program for poor school-children.
Andhra Pradesh, India
E Caring for lepers.
E Feeding and educating the children of poor laborers.
E Prison ministry.
New missions are planned this year: Uganda, Mexico, Cebu, Philippines and Jamaica.