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Missionaries mourn priests

PAUL CLARKE, Observer staff reporter

Saturday, October 29, 2005    

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FATHER Richard HoLung yesterday asked for prayers as he and brothers of his Missionaries of the Poor mourned Thursday night's fatal shooting of two young priests - Suresh Barwa, 31, of India, and Marco Las Puna, 22, of the Philippines.

"We just want to ask to please pray for all of us missionaries... Our brothers were truly martyrs... lambs ready to be slaughtered," Father HoLung said in a letter to the Observer yesterday.

"Truly, truly I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it will not bear fruit: John 12:24. These two innocent brothers have shed their blood for us all... they are going to prepare a worthy place for us in Heaven...

"Maybe it is by the blood of the innocent that this crime (affecting Jamaica) will stop," said the priest.

The two priests, who had just finished having supper at the Missionaries of the Poor's Corpus Christi premises at 3 North Street in downtown Kingston, were shot while washing dishes in the kitchen. Barwa died on the spot, while Puna died in hospital.

At the Corpus Christi premises, one of several in downtown Kingston where the Missionaries of the Poor serve the city's less fortunate, young missionaries sang and prayed yesterday. But they could not hide their grief.

Some brothers wiped tears from their eyes, while others simply looked out into space. "This is a very sad day for Jamaica," said Father HoLung.

Brother Bryan Kerr, Father HoLung's assistant, said there were about five brothers taking care of the dishes in the kitchen after the meal at the time of the shooting.

"The window was open and then I heard the shot, at which time I saw my brothers - one slumped on the floor and died immediately, and the other was taken to the hospital. "He later died early this morning," said a shaken Kerr.

"Apparently the bullet came through an open window facing North Street, went through the head of one brother, and hit the other in the head also," he added.

Police said forensic analysts on the scene were trying to ascertain exactly what happened as there was no signs of forced entry.

Security Minister Peter Phillips, who visited the home to give his support and to formally express sympathy on behalf of Prime Minister P J Patterson and the people of Jamaica, said the police would be "making the most thorough investigation possible, to determine the facts behind the shooting".

Said Phillips: "We are very mindful that those who died have travelled from far to be here; they came to give service to Jamaica. We are sure their lives will be vindicated," the security minister said.

Kerr, in the meantime, said he knew both men well, especially Marco. ". I was in the Philippines for two years, as the only Jamaican helping Father HoLung. He had asked me to start the mission in the Philippines."

He said he knew Marco's parents well, and that to tell them of their son's death was going to be very difficult.

"We will have to contact our priest friends who recruited them in the Philippines, so they can break the news to the family in a gentle way," said Kerr. The other family in India, he said, has been made aware of the tragedy.

In the meantime, Father HoLung, with tears rolling down his cheeks, said that it was a sad day for Jamaica. "I feel sorry for the gunmen," he said as he cried. "They have no love; they don't understand that goodness overcomes evil. They also do not understand that the more innocent ones are killed, the lesser the planting of wheat."

Father HoLung said that to forgive the killers of the two priests was a must, but said "Jamaica must now understand that there are no other ways but to forget about the politics, and ourselves, and to think about the nation and God".

At the same time one of the missionaries asked: "What did we do so wrong, but to come here, to offer help to the poor, the needy, the mentally challenged. What did we do so wrong, but to love our brothers and Christ?"

"I have been here for over 12 years, and this is the first time we had to deal with something like this. They are martyrs," said Brother Jesu, another missionary.

Meanwhile, master novice of the missionaries, Brother Ambrose, said the killing of his two brothers would not upset the efforts of the mission. He said they expected anything because they knew of the dangers involved in the field. "We will pray for their forgiveness, and that they give up this sort of lifestyle," said Brother Ambrose, in an obvious reference to the killer(s) of the two priests.

The two slain priests, he said, came to Jamaica to help do things many people scoff at. "They left their country and came to ours, to help care for the Lord's children, to feed the hungry, to dress the sores; they were humble people."

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