OUR FOUNDER: FR. RICHARD HO LUNG
Fr. Richard Ho Lung, founder of the Missionaries of the Poor and the present Father General, is a Jamaican, born to Chinese parents on September 17, 1939 in Richmond, St Mary. His father and mother were born in Hong Kong, but came over to Jamaica as immigrants. His family was so poor that as a child he remembers one small cup of rice being passed around for dinner to be shared by him, his parents and his two sisters and brother.
He was educated by the Franciscan sisters in Kingston and then by the Jesuits at St. George’s College. After completing his studies at St. George’s, on August 15, 1959, he joined the Society of Jesus, the most respected of religious orders and certainly the most intellectually acclaimed in the Roman Catholic Church. 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. He taught at St. George’s College, at the University of the West Indies and at Boston College in the USA.
It was during his tenure as assistant parish priest at the Aquinas Center (1972-1980) that spiritual awakening occurred. He recalls that time, saying, “I felt that everything that I had done up until that time had been somehow hypocritical. I was preaching the Word of God but not really living it”. He felt the call to respond more radically to the Gospel challenge. Surrounded by desperate poverty in Kingston where the poor suffered greatly, he had a strong sense that God was calling him to respond to their cry and to be with them in their suffering. He was reluctant to take up the challenge but he knew he must obey God’s command. In 1980, Father Ho Lung made the difficult decision of leaving the Society of Jesus, which he loved, and founded a religious community of men who dedicated their lives to the service of the rejected and the destitute.
In July 19, 1981, Fr. Richard Ho Lung started the Brothers of the Poor (BOP). Hayden Augustine, Gregory Ramkissoon, and Brian Kerr were the first to join Fr. Ho Lung, sharing his vision of dedicating their lives for the poor. Together they set about the task of sharing and relying only on God’s love. At that time they were busily engaged in apostolic works. They reached out to the very poor in the slums in the ghettoes of Kingston, serving the neediest people, the most forgotten and abandoned of peoples. They provided Kingston with a voice of justice, a voice of peace, a voice for conversion within the Christian community in Jamaica.
On March 26, 1982, Fr. Ho Lung and the Brothers passed a letter to the Most Reverend Samuel E. Carter, formally requesting approval that the Brothers of the Poor be recognized as a Pious Union, and on April 20, 1982 this request was approved according to the Canon 708 of the then Code of Canon Law.
Two things were uppermost in Fr. Ho Lung’s mind. The need for men to continue and amplify this emerging dynamic work among the poor, and the need for more tangible and durable symbols of his solidarity with the poor. Fr. Richard Ho Lung and the Brothers became seriously involved with the poor when a confrontation arose between them and a political giant, Tony Spaulding, over bulldozing of the shacks of the slum of Rema. Father Ho Lung mobilized the public and instructed the people to line up in the way of the bulldozers, forcing the government to turn back.
The Brothers of the Poor served the poor residents of Eventide Home, which was a public alms house in terrible condition. They provided, week after week, solace, comfort and hope to the 700 residents living there. Their work included wiping “messy” bottoms, binding wounds, and shaving, bathing and feeding many indigent and disadvantaged people. Father Ho Lung’s fight for the poor continued as he opened the eyes of the public to the deplorable conditions of the residents of Eventide Home, where more rats than people lived. In the home, people were found living in their own feces and urine, dying of malnutrition, with some being eaten by rats on the floor. He published a gut-wrenching photographs of the dehumanizing conditions of Eventide Home and was called a traitor to his country when he published details of the fire that later killed nearly 150 poor, helpless people at the home. His struggle for the destitute resulted in a new home built for the aged poor, with the expert assistance of many prominent Jamaicans including the late Sammy Henriques and the late Sir John Golding. The Golden Age Home was opened in in 1985 at Vineyard Town.
In addition to their work at Eventide Home, Fr. Ho Lung and the Brothers worked for the men incarcerated at the South Camp Rehabilitation Center, popularly known as “the Gun Court”. Here, those caught with guns or in the company of people with guns were strictly detained, often unjustly. Fr. Ho Lung entered the fray by starting a visiting program to the Gun Court. Soon, the Brothers of the Poor were in regular contact with the inmates through weekly visits. The Brothers started conducting classes and Fr. Ho Lung and others competent in the field began offering psychological workshops and counseling sessions for the rehabilitation of the prisoners. The Brothers built a library and a shed for the expansion of their educational and rehabilitation programs. They also began feeding the men with two delicious meals per week. Over time, Fr. Ho Lung played an important role in helping the men in prison receive a fair hearing, relentlessly opposing what was known as “the Gun Court Law”. After a long battle with the government, by early 1984 the law was repealed and the prisoners were given commuted sentences. The men returned to society greatly improved by the ministry provided by the Brothers.