Father Richard Ho Lung, the Jesuit priest who has spent the majority of his adult life in service to the poor and dispossessed, marked his 80th birthday last Saturday and was hailed for 50 years of music ministry through the Fr Ho Lung and Friends ensemble. Speaking to a doting audience at the grand Valencia Suite, Spanish Court Hotel on Worthington Avenue in New Kingston, Ho Lung described how he started writing music, ascribing it to nothing short of a divine mystery.
“I remember in the early days when music just rose up out of my soul [in spite of] whether I could sing a song or not or play an instrument or not. It was so mysterious that this music came to me. Where did it come from? Purely from God Himself. And so it is that, over the years, this mystery took place in me,” he said.
“I pray that after 50 years a new era of Father Ho Lung and Friends will come forward with greater persistence and energy and generosity to spread the gospel, and to show our poor how very much we love them,” said Ho Lung.
Citing Psalm 149, Ho Lung juxtaposed the writer’s sentiments with his own love for his country and fellow Jamaicans.
“The Lord delights in His people’s happinessâ¦ music and dance, rejoicing and happiness, service of the poor and justice for all, all bound up together. This is why we Jamaican people have had so much music and dance, so much beauty and goodness, so much laughter and kindness despite our struggles,” he said.
“I give thanks for this gift that God has given to me. It belongs to Jamaica, it belongs to the people. It is something I cannot deny. And so it is that after 50 years this music still rings, and thank God for the wonderful, talented and generous people for participating in it,” said the priest.
Winton Williams, music director of Father Ho Lung and Friends, in his remarks, paired Ho Lung’s life work serving the poor with his love for the art form.
“You don’t think of music without thinking of Father, or vice-versa. We see how he has been touched by the sufferings of humanity, and how he saw music as a very fit vehicle for creating in so many people’s lives an awareness of what is really happening in our world in terms of the poverty and our poor. This has revealed a lot about Father, the man; about those core values that he holds to — values like selflessness,” said Williams.
Long-standing member of the group Darcy Tulloch shared with the Jamaica Observer her reflections on serving with Ho Lung.
“It was a wonderful experience in terms of ministering, and we did it for the poor. We never counted the cost; and he was such a remarkable person to be able to gather talent from Jamaica and teach them to perform,” said Tulloch.
Others of the group described Ho Lung as a prolific songwriter who has penned more than 100 songs. They lauded his musical genius, but joked about his singing.
“Let us be charitable, he tried to sing a lot,” laughed long-time singer of the group Rose Cameron. “It was all fun and it was all good, and years later we are still very bonded,” she continued.
The joyous occasion saw the reading and presentation of a jubilee citation by Father Hayden Augustine and Archbishop of Kingston Kenneth Richards, who thanked Fr Ho Lung for his service to the Catholic Church in Jamaica.
“When you speak of Father Ho Lung, he represents the Catholic Church and its mission in its apostolate here and through the brothers and the institute, as he continues to give social service to the poor and the needy. We give thanks to God for the ingenuity that He blessed him with, and the persevering spirit to traverse the early years of trying to get this institute established; and to see that it has not only been in service here in Jamaica but has gone to Haiti, the African continent, and The Philippines,” said Richards.
Grantley Stephenson, CEO of Kingston Wharves Ltd, also thanked Fr Ho Lung for his contribution to Jamaican culture, and made a donation of $500,000 towards relief efforts for the Good Shepherd Home run by Ho Lung’s Missionaries of the Poor that was destroyed by fire two weeks ago.
The gesture was more than Ho Lung could ask for on his birthday, as he noted poignantly.
“What is it that I want above all for my birthday? I want God to be in this country and I want us to be a people of God, above all. There is nothing else I want but that,” said Fr Ho Lung.
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