Candles in the Dark: The Authorized Biography of Fr. Richard Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor, by Joseph Pearce

Candles in the Dark: The Authorized Biography of Fr. Richard Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor

Joseph Pearce writes that Father Richard Ho Lung, known as the “Reggae Priest,” the Ghetto Priest,” the “Dancing Priest” and the “Renegade Priest” would rather be known as a “practicing priest,” setting a high standard for all clergy. Pearce suggests that Fr. Ho Lung may be the happiest man in the world. What is his secret? Pearce recalls his search for an answer during his visit to Bethlehem, a residence for severely disabled children: My…

“…eyes met the twisted and tangled bodies of broken childhood. There, in rows of cribs, one after another, children of all ages, from babies to teenagers, wriggled and squirmed in various degrees of helplessness. To my uninitiated gaze, it looked almost infernal, a place where the triumph of suffering seemed to call for the abandonment of all hope…. As I looked in stunned silence at the unwanted and abandoned dregs of humanity, bent by the brokenness of body or brain… I approached a girl of around eight-years-old…. As I took her hand, she returned my forced smile with a radiance of her own that transfigured the situation and exorcised the demons from my hardened heart…. Looking up at me was the radiant face of the child Jesus…. She had returned my pathetic effort with a smile that beamed with the light and delight of heaven itself.”

Pearce explains that Fr. Ho Lung and his Brothers derive their joy from their labors because they are more than social workers caring for the human needs of the poor. They are “servants of the broken body of Christ. Their work with the poor is not merely a job but a labor of love. They are laying down their lives for their friends.”

Born to Chinese Buddhist immigrants to Jamaica, young Richard Ho Lung had the advantage of not knowing he was poor. He lived without luxuries and even necessities, but his family gave and received assistance from their neighbors. Communal interdependence became a model for Father Ho Lung’s later efforts to relieve poverty in Jamaica. Young Richard’s only disappointments came when he witnessed his neighbors attempt to break free of their economic limits through self-destructive behavior: prostitution or robbery.

Franciscan Missionary sisters from New York served Richard his elementary education, spiced with music and evangelization. Richard (and eventually his family) accepted baptism. Buddhism helped Richard appreciate nature’s beauty. In Christianity he responded strongly to God as a person that he could embrace in the Body of Christ. Richard failed the entrance exam for the prestigious Saint George’ College. Fortunately, the Jesuit headmaster noticed something special in Richard, admitted him and guided him over the next four years. Life was good, but hurdles awaited Richard.

He attended the Jesuit’s New England house of formation during the spiritually turbulent 1960s. Fr. Martin D’Arcy, the famous English Jesuit warned his American confreres, “The whole thing is going to fall apart because we are too rich.” His warning proved prophetic. In 1983, a Jamaican newspaper reporter asked Fr. Ho Lung why the Jesuits in Jamaica had not a single vocation since he entered in 1959. He responded: “They have not yet come to grips with identifying themselves with the poor- at least not the American ones…. This mood (of self-centeredness), I think, prevents young men from choosing the priesthood.” Fr. Ho Lung left the Jesuits to establish the Brothers of the Poor, now called the Missionaries of the Poor.

Upon his return to Kingston, Jamaica he introduced reggae to the liturgy, not without controversy. Joseph Pearce recognized Fr. Ho Lung’s use of “traditional Caribbean music and rhythm” as an application an age old Jesuit missionary method of communicating with people in their own medium. Reggae brought the young to church, retreats and to personal prayer. The recording of “Sinner,” by “Fr. Ho Lung and Friends” originally intended as a fund-raiser for missionary projects topped the charts in the Caribbean earning Fr. Ho Lung fame as “The Reggae Priest.” Over time Fr. Ho Lung wrote dozens of religious songs, shows and operas in collaboration with his musical directors, Jon and Wynton Williams, the later a Baptist minister.

Civic and business groups, including the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs invited “The Reggae Priest” to speak, but Fr. Ho Lung, “The Ghetto Priest,” gave the presentations. He criticized the Jamaican government’s staffing of social service facilities with political insiders rather than trained and caring workers. His descriptions of these grotesque environments embarrassed the government, but did stir the generosity of the private sector. He also challenged the Jamaican government’s willingness to accept foreign aid that promoted abortion as a solution to social problems. In response to the substantial needs in Jamaica, Fr. Ho Lung raised funds through concerts around the world, using the revenue to construct homes for the homeless, the deserted and the vulnerable. The Missionaries of the Poor thrived as it recruited from abroad to staff these homes and similar establishments in other countries.

Joseph Pearce allows Fr. Ho Lung to speak freely, challenging all Christians to embrace the cross and through it to find happiness. The reader is encouraged to appreciate her or his own existence and the beauty of creation, while recognizing the injurious spread of hedonism, materialism and convenience that lead to personal misery; physical and spiritual death. I strongly recommend this book to anyone in search of happiness, to those listening for their vocation in life and for anyone seeking to light candles in the darkness.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

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Selfless: The Story of Sr. Theophane’s Missionary Life in the Jungles of Papua New Guinea, by Sr. Immolata Reida, SSpS

Selfless: The Story of Sr. Theophane's Missionary Life in the Jungles of Papua New Guinea

This time-capsule, written in 1946 and published for the first time in 2013, transports the reader to the first half of the twentieth century. The author recreates the language, values and simplicity common to that time. The reader observes as the “Greatest Generation Ever,” grows to maturity.

Inez Maier, born in 1906, the baby of the family, although innocence personified, loved mischief. She viewed each boundary as a challenge, whether it was the fence around her family’s property or the Pacific Ocean. Her parents, often the last to find out, struggled with her early explorations.  The focus of her life sharpened when a missionary sister visited Saint Michael’s School. Inez decided that she too would become a missionary sister. In preparation she collected money for the missions (including the pot from her father’s weekly poker game). Inez strengthened her soul, body and mind through prayer, especially a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; exhausting manual labor and diligent study, especially geography.

As a young girl, she favored horses, dogs, turtles and snakes over dolls. She cared little for fashions, but socialized, engaged in pranks, plays, practical jokes and proved an effective matchmaker. Never one to remain silent she challenged adults when she observed injustice or impropriety. Her academic and parish achievements earned her a New York State Regents Scholarship and an unsolicited Diocesan offer of a full scholarship to the Catholic University of America in hopes that she would later work for the Rochester Diocese. Instead, she completed a year of nursing school as she waited for admission to the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters. In an effort to keep busy following her high school graduation, she single-handedly conducted the census for a new parish, exposing her to the need for missionaries in her own town.

During her years of religious training, Inez enjoyed a more complete participation in the liturgical life of the church. Along the way she practiced patience, a virtue that would support her for the rest of her life. She took the religious habit and the name Sister Theophane, SSpS, in honor of a recently beatified Vietnamese martyr and dreamed of her eventual departure for the foreign missions. Patiently she accepted an assignment to teach in the American home missions. The classroom proved more difficult for her, than she or her superiors imagined. They assigned Sr. Theophane to the completion of her nursing training and eventually she was asked to pack for work in Papua New Guinea, arriving there in 1935.

The photographs added to the original manuscript by the editor, Gregory J. Maier, one of her nephews, demonstrates how Inez emphatically embraced her role as missionary. Back straight, clothed in the traditional habit and veil, she sat upon a spirited horse or the seat of an outrigger canoe. She traveled hours to and from mission stations in every kind of tropical weather imaginable. She was often soaked from rain, river crossings, rough seas or sweat. She loved it. If the horse was afraid to cross a swollen, crocodile infested river, Sr. Theophane dismounted and led him across. She then led him back and remounted. Now that she had taught him not to fear, they crossed together.

She found that despite ceaseless and difficult labor, progress in the missions often proved elusive. Local customs and traditions, including a brutal indifference to the suffering of neighbors and even family members, challenged the imagination. Sr. Theophane remained focused and joyful. She would rejoice if after a difficult and dangerous journey she could bring a soul to the Lord, in the minutes before his or her death.

She demonstrates her attitude toward her calling in her description of a mission building:

“It’s a load of fun to live in such a weird house. The whole thing shakes at every step you take; all sorts of insect life enjoy the hospitality of the bush material, and funny little animals fall out of the roof quite often…. This is the life!”

She had fallen deeply in love. She loved her congregation, accepting every difficult, dirty and inconvenient assignment. When her Sisters came to the end of a difficult day, she helped them finish their tasks. When people at the mission stations needed medical assistance in the middle of the night, she gave up her sleep to ride horse-back in the rain or paddled over miles of open sea to reach them in time. Even as a prisoner in stifling hot solitary confinement, she amazed her Japanese captors with her ability to sing joyfully.

“She had always given herself entirely.” As she matured spiritually, “Her laugh was even more joyous…. Her strong soul had become mellow under the anvil of suffering. The beautiful work of the Lord, which she had tried so hard and successfully to hide, was shining through. Sister Theophane could no longer conceal the fact that she was constantly in communion with God.” Sister Theophane never grew old. She died in 1944, a victim of “friendly fire.” Her last words quoted the apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” spoken as she reached toward the wound in her chest.

Through “Selfless,” the reader listens to Sister Theophane, often through quotations from her many letters and the testimony of her confreres within the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters.  You might say that she was just an ordinary nun. She founded no order, started no movement nor did she perform miraculous deeds. What made her so special was that she gave herself joyfully and completely through her love for God and for her neighbors, giving herself especially to those who had no previous opportunity to hear the gospel and see the good news in action. This book resonates with happiness, love and innocence. It might appeal to mature young adults looking for their mission in life and to persons of every age who seek happiness through collaboration with the Holy Spirit. An understanding of the mystery of Sr. Theophane’s devotion to her Lord and her God require prayer and reflection. I have been blessed to have received the opportunity to read “Selfless” and begin the process of internalizing its message. I recommend it to all.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Before the Sultan’s Fortress

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In the glow of amber twilight,

Dugan, the local Sultan donned

His red fez, with tassel bright

To stroll about the pond,

Before the evening’s curfew ban,

Would ring its final tolls,

Dugan, in his right hand,

As was his habit on these strolls,

Grasped a worn tin-pail,

By its wire-handled arch.

It rocked as if by its tail,

On the Sultan’s forward march.

Dugan briskly onward strode,

Quickening his paces,

Across field, bank and road,

Toward “The Four Aces.”

This pub, from its windows and its door,

Wafted clouds of smoke,

And the fragrance of the wooden floor,

In which stale beer did soak.

The Sultan set his lidded tin,

With a spigot at its base,

Jauntily, beneath the fountain:

Before the Irish Ace.

“Fill’er up O’Shaughnessy

And spare me all the foam.”

Smiled, the Ace, to his majesty

As he filled tin to the dome.

“I’ll not return” The Sultan chirped,

“To the Missus with half a pail,

She’ll think I stopped and sipped,

Somewhere along the trail.”

“There’ll be hell to pay,

So see you take care.

Listen, hear what I say,

O’Shaughnessy. Beware!”

O’Shaughnessy, the Ace,

Always the wily diplomat,

Looked Dugan in the face,

And blessed his shoulder with a pat.

The Ace, he smiled and gently bowed.

He precisely aimed the amber draft.

Milwaukee’s golden Finest, flowed

To please the Sultan, oh so daft.

The barman, with one “bon mot,”

Warned, “Dugan, could it be,

‘Tis broke your tin’s spigot.

You’re watering the trees?”

“The patch through which you’re tottering,

Betwixt the pub and home,

Looks all the better for your watering,

Your ministrations of me foam.”

The Sultan, upon the moistened counter

With a splash and a rebuff

Slapped a shiny silver quarter:

“O’Shaughn, none of your guff.”

“Look here, your price, I did meet.

You’ll be sure I get my due.

Or I’ll take my quarter down the street

And deal with Marylou.”

“Adieu to you O’Shaughnessy.

I’m sure my spigot’s tight,

For home I’ll speed my tin of brew

And to all a pleasant night.”

Dugan tipped his fez to all.

Then skipped with much delight.

He took noticed of the blooms so tall,

Glowing softly in the pale twilight,

“Be buying your own beer, tutt, tutt!

You shamed-faced forget-me-nots.

So tight my spigot’s now been shut,

Against you thieving sots.”

Now onward, Dugan and his tin,

Both dripping of the sweat,

He was now near done in,

And not near home as yet.

He, by the left flank marched,

Up the front path of his estate,

Between a towering spruce and larch

And through the open gate.

Up the bricks, he did track,

Pulling the screen door.

Lest closing, it hit him in the back;

He quickly stepped in before.

Upon frame, the door soon crashed

With a characteristic “swack,”

Against the posts and lintel dashed,

While the spring twanged in its slack.

Upon her wicker rocking chair,

Dugan’s Missus sat enthroned.

She’d set the table, oh so spare.

Chilled mugs, stood all alone.

The tin between the glasses,

The Sultan, he did wedge,

With spigot perpendicular,

To the wicker table’s edge.

Before the spigot, chilled mugs

Curtsied one by one,

Savoring the golden chugs,

As freely beer did run.

Mugs billowing with foamy crowns,

So full of bubbly life,

Then to bow before the laughing lips

Of Dugan and his wife.

A toast, a clink of glass,

A sip, then silent repose,

Upon the wicker furniture to sass,

And maybe soon to dose?

But first the cavalcade of clowns,

Will step beneath the lights…

To drive away the frowns,

The Dugans, to delight.

The Rockets’ Red Glare

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A gentleman, perhaps a trustee of The Old Burying Grounds in Halifax, Nova Scotia pointed out the tomb of this cemetery’s most distinguished resident: Major General Robert Ross. The gentleman added that Ross’ troops had burned the Whitehouse and the Capitol in Washington, DC and inspired part of the U. S. National Anthem. He said “assassins” shot Ross near Baltimore. His body preserved in a keg of Jamaican rum, was transported to Halifax where it rests in peace beneath this rained soaked stone. See the entire tomb below, as it looked in May, 2013.

Ross personally led his forces into battle and employed the latest innovations in weaponry against the forces of the newly formed United States of America. Rockets routed the American Militiamen during the Battle of Bladensburg, opening the path for the capture of Washington, DC during the War of 1812.

Ross’ rockets also inspired Francis Scott Key as he wrote the words to “The Star Spangled Banner.” Key negotiated with Ross for the release of an American prisoner, aboard a British ship of war. Ross extended an invitation to dinner, the scene of these amicable negotiations. Key was then given a ring-side seat for the storming of Fort McHenry during a night attack on Baltimore, in which Key observed the ferocious rockets’ red glare.

Unfortunately for Ross, as he led his forces into Baltimore, American snipers mortally wounded him in battle. Which sharpshooter deserves credit or blame we’ll never know since they both fired at the same time and both stuck Ross who subsequently died.

The tomb cover shown above mentions “Rosstrevor,” the site of Ross’ memorial obelisk in County Down, Northern Ireland. Another grand memorial to Ross stands in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. Even the U. S. Capitol’s rotunda memorializes Ross with a portrait.

May he rest in peace.

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The 78th Pipers and Drummers at the Citadel in Halifax, Nova Scotia

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The 78th Highland Regiment Pipers and Drummers joyfully sustain the traditions of the Celtic people. Accomplished musicians all, they have spent years in training and generations in the celebration of their unique gifts. By way of introduction, the piper to the left with his back turned to you and his handy dirk sheathed on his right, leads this quintet. He began his formal training in his junior high school and then his high school’s pipe and drum band. As a college student, he continues to learn from a master at the Citadel’s School of Piping and Drumming. By the way, if you are inclined to take up the bagpipes as your life’s ambition, you may receive instruction from the Citadel’s pipe master anywhere in the world through the medium of Skype. The quintet’s lead piper himself has one student. You could become his second.

Each of the two pipers facing you in the photo has a brother drumming in this quintet. Can you tell from the picture, who is related to whom? The piper standing before the window has three stripes on his right cuff. In the original 78th Highlanders, they would indicate three years of good behavior. Today, they indicate three years of prior service as a re-enactor. So you see the quintet exhibits family traditions, years of training and sustained service.

After a performance for the Citadel’s visitors, this same piper revealed some of the secrets of the modern bagpipe. The tartan cover hides a leather bag. The modern version of the bag features a zipper and a small cardboard box containing the equivalent of moisture-absorbing, “kitty-litter.” The pipers explained that these “pipes” were made of wood, rather than ivory or plastic. The three upright “drone” pipes accompany the smaller “chanter.” The piper’s fingers play this nine note source of melody. The longer, French version of the bagpipe “chanter” extends its range of notes and chords.

The quintet members explained that the original Highland Drummers were recruited as regular soldiers. A drummer wears the red doublet with the white leather belt across his chest. The pipers were recruited by and paid by the officers, who had much more money to spend. Pipers wear the green doublet, a polished, black leather belt and have far more brass buttons than the Redcoats. Notice that a long plaid wraps about the piper’s chest, under the right arm. A brooch joins the plaid on the left shoulder. The ends of the plaid hang down well beyond the hem of the kilt. The drummers have a smaller tartan suspended from their left shoulder. The 78th wears the Mackenzie tartan in honor of its original sponsor.

Pipes and drums function not merely for parades, morale and time keeping at the Citadel. They were used to coordinate the regimental maneuvers during battle. The 78th designates one bagpipe melody as its signal to charge. The drummers also convey battlefield orders. They have a back-up system should the drum malfunction. Notice that a bugle hangs on a green lanyard slung across the drummer’s left shoulder. Each drummer carries a sword on his right side.

Attention to detail, constant practice, a profound devotion to Celtic music and traditions make the full corps of the 78th Pipers and Drummers contenders in the world championships for pipe and drum bands held in Scotland. The leader of the quintet reported that every small town in Scotland has several pipe and drum corps. Nevertheless, the Citadel’s contingent has confidently traveled to the world competition. They have my enthusiastic encouragement.

The Noon Gun

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The Citadel, an eight-cornered star, double-walled fortress guards Halifax harbor and the city against the menace of invaders. It now appears as it did between 1869 and 1871 when the 78th Highland Regiment Afoot and the 3rd Brigade, Royal Artillery defended her.

Since the military personnel, for the most part lacked watches, cannon fire marked the noon hour, a tradition maintained every day since 1856, with the exception of Christmas day. An evening volley summoned the soldiers back to the Citadel from the various drinking establishments down the hill. Pipes and drums announced the other hours of the day.

A private in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces earned 13 pence a day. Of these, 12 pence were returned to the paymaster to cover charges for clothing, room and board, leaving one penny to spend. A penny in those days bought 3 pints of ale. I see you’re wondering about inflation right now, but you can also understand why the ale houses flourished in the neighborhood of the Citadel.

Married soldiers brought their wives and children into the barracks. The married couple occupied the same space as a single soldier. With the couple at close quarters on the bed, the children slept under it. This practice stopped with the advent of the camera. When photos of cramped quarters reached potential recruits, enlistments fell off. Consequently, married soldiers’ barracks came to occupy Barrack Street, not far from the entrance to the Citadel.

Neatness: spit and polish to be exact, were the rule. To their credit, the re-enactors maintain this tradition. This became clear to me after a visit to the tailor shop. A seamstress gave me a private tour of the premises. In particular she explained the fabrication of the red doublet worn by the infantry. The outer shell had been sewn together in England and then custom finished at the Citadel as a heavy woolen jacket. The chevrons, insignia and buttons indicated regiment, rank, years of service and specialty. However, the new buttons had not been polished. The seamstress fitted the re-enactor with his or her doublet and then it was up to the re-enactor to shine the buttons, and shine they did, in order to match the brilliance of these excellent university students working for the spring and summer at the Citadel.

The seamstress, an actual skilled tailor knew her business and had a few stories to tell. It seems that Queen Elizabeth II visited Halifax a few years back. The Prime Minister also attended the event. Needless to say, the entire Citadel contingent, with pipes, drums, rifles, sabers, dirks, kilts and doublets turned out for the march down to the harbor.

Unfortunately, it rained to the point that, as the seamstress told me, “The animals began to line up two-by-two. We expected Noah and his Ark to dock at the terminal.”

As the re-enactors stood in the downpour, listening to the speeches, their woolen uniforms soaked up the deluge. Then the soggy warriors turned, about face and marched back up the hill. Imagine the smell of wet wool drying out in the locker rooms at the Citadel.

If you visit Halifax, be sure to march on the Citadel.

Thanks to the tour guide, the exhibits and the brochure  as well as the seamstress and other re-enactors for the information provided in this blog.