Missionaries Serve the Poor With Joy

Interview With Founder Father Richard Ho Lung

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KINGSTON, Jamaica, FEB. 14, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The founder of a new international monastic order dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor is affirming that this vocation is a source of joy for many people.

Started in 1981 by Father Richard Ho Lung, the Missionaries of the Poor now include 550 religious brothers and priests working in Jamaica (where the order was founded and maintains its headquarters), India, the Philippines, Haiti, Uganda, Kenya and the United States.

Father Ho Lung, who was originally educated and ordained in the Jesuit order, felt a different calling when he ventured into the slums around the parish he was pastor of in Jamaica. He decided at that point to dedicate himself exclusively to build family and community among the poor and disadvantaged through a new religious order.

In this interview given to the television program «Where God Weeps» of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, the priest speaks about his calling to serve the poor, the joy he experiences within his order, and the hopes he has for the future.

Q: What was this call, and it couldn’t have been an easy decision for you?

Father Ho Lung: This was both the reality of the homeless and the destitute, the outcast in Jamaica. And there was a terrible incident in which 155 women, where old ladies were burned in a condemned building run by the government in Jamaica.

And it stirred my conscience. It was quite a terrible tragedy.

After that while teaching at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, I fell into a lot of prayer, and then the figure of Christ, working […] with the poorest of the people and the most forgotten haunted my conscience.

I began to ask questions; it was the Lord asking questions: «Well are you going to be authentically a Christian or are you not? And moreover, are you going to be authentically a priest or not?»

Q: The question must have been a terrible process?

Father Ho Lung: Yes, it was like Jacob wrestling with the angels. And of course, the Lord won out.

It was a very demanding time spiritually and [yet it was also] the best of times.

Sometimes I quarreled with the Lord and asked him: «How come you can be so contradictory?» First of all, to have me do all these studies and then, finally to reverse his decision it seems, and call me to work with the poorest and in the most difficult of situations that had nothing to do it seems to me at that time with the intellect. But I realize in many ways that confronting the problems of the poorest of people required, in fact, every bit of learning I gained and so the Jesuits were really a preparation for my vocation [as founder of the] Missionaries of the Poor.

Q: Did you always have a heart for the poor? What is always working in you? When was the point that you really said: ‘This is what I feel called to do?'»

Father Ho Lung: I think my father, who is Chinese and came from the Far East, once he had married my mother, implanted in us the great demand and needs of the poor.

He kept repeating to us: «Remember you are poor. Remember I am poor and remember the poorest of the people.» [He would] remind us that the people in Jamaica, though they are poor, they are the best of people, and without the poor coming to our home and coming to the little grocery we had, he reminded us we would not be alive.

So he said: «Always give thanks and whatever you do in your life do not forget the poor, wherever you are.»

Now that was the beginning even before I was Catholic.

Q: Father Richard, you chose the motto: «Joyful Service with Christ on the Cross.» Why did you choose this motto for the Missionaries of the Poor?

Father Ho Lung: Once the community began, I noticed a very strange phenomenon.

The brothers each day would be working with the poorest of people, doing the simplest of works, all the way from bathing the people, cooking for the people, shaving, cutting their hair, and not only that but wiping out all the mess that there is yet at the end of the day. Even though we might be encountering people dying of AIDS, though we might be encountering people who are sick in the head, or lepers, they then [would] come back each day just so filled with joy.

And I thought this very mysterious because on one hand we emphasize that working with the poor is lifting the cross of Christ.

Yet they were so happy at the end of the day, and so we adopted the motto: Joyful Service with Christ on the Cross.

Q: Father, what would you say is your greatest joy in this work?

Father Ho Lung: Just to know that we are one with Christ, mind and heart, and just also knowing that we are living out the sacraments, and the Word of God.

That sense of closeness and intimacy with God is great.

And then, when I look at these beautiful young vocations and I see the tremendous joy and excitement and openness, and happiness in young people even to the point of death; they are ready to pour out their lives; nothing else can satisfy me as much as that does.

Q: What would be your greatest suffering in this work?

Father Ho Lung: Our greatest suffering is when two of our brothers were murdered.

Yes, they were killed in Kingston, right in the heart of the ghetto and very mysteriously at night.

The whole area was so silent and with one gunshot two of our brothers were murdered. That was my bitter sadness and for the community.

Q: Did you find a sense in this killing?

Father Ho Lung: First of all the death of the brothers [demonstrated the] tremendous commitment that young people have.

No one left, and in fact our society has grown, even really grown tremendously, since the death of our brothers.

And then the real meaning of the cross of Christ and drinking up from the cup of suffering was very deep in the hearts and the minds of the brothers.

They had to go through great discernment and understanding that this is serious. It means their life and their death possibly, but we got to continue with the people.

The outflow in the island — which is not a Catholic island — [was] tremendous from every corner of the island. There was such a deep sense of the tragedy of modern ghetto life in Jamaica.

Q: Father, what are your needs now? What are your plans? What are your hopes?

Father Ho Lung: Abortion is being pushed, to legalize it in Jamaica, which is very offensive to the Lord.

We were traveling in the ghettos, and the brothers suddenly came across two plastic bags, and in the plastic bags were babies that had been murdered.

So the brothers came to me and said: «Father, you know you have always taught us about the problem of abortion being the cruelest and the most awful of crimes. We need to start a home for unwed mothers, women who would abort, another home for little babies as an option for women who would otherwise kill their children.»

And after prayer we decided, as a community, we would open a home.

Many of them are not married of course, and each day they can leave their babies off with us. They can go to work rather than losing their jobs, pick up their babies and go home afterwards.

But also there we would like to have Mass, an evangelization right in the very building on Saturday and Sunday so that people can be brought to Christ and the Church.

Also we would like to have a prenatal clinic so women who are considering abortion would come to us and they would have an ultrasound whereby they can see the baby and they would be convinced. We would tell them if they want to use our day care center or if they wish to leave their babies with us to be adopted, we will give a solution.

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for «Where God Weeps,» a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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On the Net:

For more information: www.WhereGodWeeps.org

Missionaries of the Poor: www.missionariesofthepoor.org

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