KINGSTON, Jamaica – Many Americans see the true meaning of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays as a season to be especially thankful for their blessings and a season to also lend a helping hand to those in need. One person that embodies the true meaning of the giving season is Father Richard Ho Lung, one of the most known religious leaders in the Caribbean, whose name is synonymous with kindness, spirituality and helping the less fortunate.
Through Missionaries of the Poor, a religious order founded in 1981, Father Ho Lung has been in service of the poor, disabled and disadvantaged, not only in Jamaica but also Haiti, India, Kenya, Philippines and the United States.
The devoted Catholic priest, who was born in St. Mary to Chinese immigrants, is no stranger to poverty in Jamaica, having lived in poverty as a child with his parents and siblings.
After completing his studies at St. George’s College, one of the most prestigious All-Boys High Schools in Jamaica, Ho Lung divulged completely into Catholicism by joining the Society of Jesus. He was ordained to the priesthood on July 4, 1971, and diligently studied, earning Master’s degrees in Philosophy, English Literature and Theology, along with a Licentiate in Theology and a Doctorate in Humanities.
During his tenure as an assistant priest working in Papine, Ho Lung said he experienced a spiritual awakening. “I was preaching the Word of God but not really living it”, he said. He made the decision to leave the Society of Jesus in 1980, and a year later, he started the Brothers of the Poor (BOP).
Initially consisting of only four members, BOP set out to build family and community among the poor and disadvantaged, by first establishing a community of brothers and priests that would go into the communities and preach God’s word.
The BOP was approved by the bishop of Kingston and eventually, they changed their name to the “Missionaries of the Poor”. The brothers began their work in a government-run house for the homeless destitute and aged, where they succeeded in opening the consciousness of the public to the needs and struggles of the poor. They continued their work with prisoners, where they helped to bring to light the need for rehabilitation among prisoners.
As the religious order grew in number and popularity, Father Ho Lung introduced other avenues of charity that could be used to transform people’s lives. Father Lo Hung, who had long been passionate about Caribbean music, worked with Bart Hopkins, an ethno-musicologist, on his first-ever LP. As “Father Lo Lung and Friends”, the pair, eventually joined by other musicians and singers, performed at Missionaries of the Poor concerts in Jamaica during the 1970s. During the 80s, those concerts were transformed into musicals as more creative Christians joined the religious order, and the group began gaining international attention.
In the course of almost 4 decades, the group has achieved an enormous amount of success from its various series of CDs, musicals and performances that have been a staple in the local Christian community, as well as an important part of the Caribbean-American community in the United States.
With all the recognition, accolades and awards that the group has received, their commitment has remained to the poor. Every year, the proceeds from each showcase is donated to help the disadvantaged through Missionaries of the Poor.
Since its founding, the organization has received both papal and episcopal approval for their work and constitutions. The organization also became the first male Catholic religious institute founded in the Caribbean to received Vatican approval.
Today, the order has over 550 brothers serving in nine missions around the world.
Father Lo Hung, now 80-years-old, has lived a life completely in service of others. As a religious leader, he has preached to communities around the world and successfully led one of the most known religious organizations in the Caribbean for over 30 years. As a teacher, he has lectured at his Alma Mater, St. George’s College, at the University of the West Indies and at Boston College in the United States.