Father Ho Lung stranded
Missionaries Of the Poor co-founder stuck in The Philippines because of COVID-19Sunday, July 04, 2021
BY VERNON DAVIDSON
FATHER Richard Ho Lung, known and highly respected for helping the poor and dispossessed for most of his adult life, marks his 50th year in the priesthood today. But his celebration has a tinge of sadness as he has been stuck in The Philippines since March 2020, unable to travel due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to Ho Lung, who will mark his 82nd birthday in September this year, doctors advised him not to travel because of his age and the fact that he has, so far, received only the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
“They said the second dose will not be administered before another three months. After that I plan to go to Indonesia and East Timor,” Ho Lung told the Jamaica Observer in a phone interview last week from the City of Naga.
The Jesuit priest who, with two colleague priests — fathers Brian Kerr and Hayden Augustine — founded Missionaries Of the Poor (MOP) 40 years ago in Kingston, said he had taken the near 16,000 kilometres journey from Jamaica to the archipelagic country in Southeast Asia in his capacity as founder of the Roman Catholic monastic religious order.
He explained that his planned trek to Indonesia and East Timor was to oversee MOP's operations in those jurisdictions, adding that the religious order cares for approximately 400 people in four homes it operates for the homeless and destitute in The Philippines where it also runs a school, called Nazareth, for orphans and poor children.
“Because of the coronavirus, I am not able to return to Jamaica now,” he told the Sunday Observer.
“People are saying 'Well, you're that age,' so I'm getting quite a few of what you call prohibitions and I'm not able to move around as freely as I can. Even in Naga, going from one province to another, it's very difficult. But people are very, very nice, so we're working in the Balatas with hundreds and hundreds of kids,” Ho Lung said. “Here we are all known as the 'Jamaican MOP Brothers'.”
He said he is using the time away from Jamaica to teach, conduct retreats, and write.
“I've written two more new plays and I'm now writing a musical called Tobit, which relates the story of [the biblical character] Tobit who became blind but he was blessed by God and recovered sight,” said Ho Lung who has, since 1977, mounted a slew of successful theatrical musicals based on Bible stories.
Asked to state his expected return date to Jamaica, Ho Lung said: “Well, I'd certainly like to be there for next year, but I have to just watch and see. I've never been away from home this long but we have homes and work here, and there are some wonderful brothers here who will never forget Jamaica.”
He extended his gratitude to the Jamaican people for supporting the dramatic productions staged by his Father Ho Lung and Friends group over the years and appealed for public support of MOP's operations here, especially for his birthday on September 17.
“People who wish to help can get in touch with Brother Rokie and Brother Roper at Corpus Christi on North Street,” he said.
Reflecting on his 50 years as a priest, the St George's College old boy who was ordained on July 4, 1971 and who holds master's degrees in philosophy, English literature and theology, as well as a Licentiate in Theology and a Doctorate in Humanities, said he has a few regrets about how he tackled some issues with the Government.
“Sometimes I think I was a little bit too harsh,” he told the Sunday Observer, pointing to protests he and other religious leaders mounted against increases in fuel prices more than two decades ago.
But despite his remorse in relation to how he has responded to a number of social ills, Ho Lung holds firm to his belief that his anger is justified in some of the cases.
“The one I don't feel any regret about is the matter of abortion... to kill the baby in your womb, who is so dependent on you, even if you don't want it, it's hard, it's hard, man,” lamented Ho Lung who has, for decades, stated his opposition to foeticide.
In 2019, while attending the hearing of submissions to Parliament's Human Resource and Social Development Committee, Ho Lung had told journalists, “I would prefer to see that I die than the future of our country eliminated and be killed.”
He said that instead of aborting children, in particular those who would be born disabled, it would be better for mothers to consider leaving them in the care of organisations like MOP.
“Give them to us. We have had many of them adopted. The parents of disabled children often feel ashamed, but there is nothing to be ashamed of. I think these little ones are precious in the eyes of God,” he said.
Over MOP's 40 years it has established missions in Jamaica, Haiti, India, The Philippines, East Timor, Uganda, Kenya, Indonesia, and the USA.
In 2015 MOP was elevated by the Vatican to an Institute of Pontifical Right.
The elevation was approved by Pope Francis on November 14, 2014, on the recommendation of Archbishop of Kingston Charles Dufour, and ratified by one of the Catholic Church's oldest authorities — the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Institutes of Pontifical Right report directly to the Pope who has general oversight on matters including those that are constitutional.
Despite his accomplishments, which also include securing justice for young men incarcerated on poor evidence, Ho Lung is adamant that his purpose on Earth is to serve people.
“I know that I'm an imperfect man, I know I'm a sinner, so why shouldn't everybody be given justice and mercy,” he argued.
“The mistakes that I've made in life are enormous, like vexation... so I really see myself as a totally undeserving sinner,” he said.
In the meantime, he is yearning to return home.
“I miss Jamaica bad, yu know. Please give my Jamaican people my love,” added Ho Lung who will soon start a series of writings in the Observer which he has titled Learning to Love.
“I keep telling the brothers, it comes down to loving God and loving the poorest of people in the name of Christ. I see that as a totally fulfilling life and I've learned to trust God and to love people.”