Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Hanging out with Ho Lung

Published:Monday | May 18, 2015 | 5:10 AM
Father Richard Ho Lung (left) and Michael Abrahams take a selfie outside the National Arena.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about Father Ho Lung's assessment of Lisa Hanna as the disappointment of the year, based on a photograph that she posted on Instagram. My article, titled 'Beauty and the Priest', was sheer satire, as I made light of the situation. It led to me writing and recording a song of the same name, as well as a music video. Many people enjoyed the article and the video, while some found no humour in them at all and accused me of being disrespectful.
I actually have the most respect for Father Ho Lung and am in awe of him and his charitable and artistic work and the positive influence he has had on many Jamaicans, especially young people, and I wanted to meet him.
Last Thursday morning, I learnt that he was at the National Arena and, on a whim, decided to go there and find him. I knew that his Father Ho Lung And Friends show, King David, was coming up and figured that he was at a rehearsal, but I was not prepared for what I was about to see.
On reaching the arena, a woman recognised me and told me to come and see what Father Ho Lung was doing. Her stern demeanour suggested to me that she had probably seen my video and wanted to show me that this priest was no punk, but a dedicated and hard-working man doing great work. As she led me into the arena, I realised that this was not a rehearsal, but an actual performance, with the arena packed to capacity with screaming schoolchildren, obviously enjoying the production. The sight on stage was magnificent, depicting a scene from a biblical story. The remainder of the arena, however, was pitch black, and as the lady led me through the audience, with the aid of a small flashlight, I realised that I could hardly see where I was going, and wondered if God was going to punish me for mocking the priest by allowing me to trip, fall and break and rupture some vital body parts.
The search for Father in the arena was futile, but a brother told me to follow him, and that he would locate him for me. My journey led me back outside the venue, where I found Father Ho Lung sitting in an SUV, in the parking lot, wrapping up a phone call. At the end of the call, I entered the vehicle and sat on the passenger seat beside him. I had no idea what to expect. I was now in his territory and at his mercy, hoping that he had a sense of humour and did not have a firearm.
It turns out that Father and the brothers are not fans of the video. They definitely do not have it on high rotation on big screens at Missionaries of the Poor. I informed him that I honestly do not think that he wants Lisa Hanna at all, that the work is satire and is purely for entertainment purposes, and also that if he writes things like what he did (he used words such as Lucifer and Sodom and Gomorrah when describing Ms Hanna), he must expect a backlash.
Father expressed concern about the decadence and irresponsible behaviour plaguing our country, and I told him that I had similar concerns. Women having multiple babyfathers, men having multiple babymothers, children being abused and led astray. Ms Hanna had recently said the country had lost its soul, and I pointed out that he shared similar sentiments and at least they had some common ground and that it would be nice if they could come together for something, as the public sees them as adversaries and they could change that perception.
He then brought up the issue of abortion. Being Catholic clergy, Father is strongly anti-abortion in his stance. He said that every conception has the potential to become a living human being who could go to Heaven. I recently publicly sided with the minister of youth and culture on the issue, and told him that while I understood and respected his position, I am pro-choice. I often criticise rabid opponents of abortion by saying that they tell women not to do it, but are usually not willing to help the women financially or otherwise.
But Father Ho Lung told me something that I was unaware of. He informed me that the Missionaries of the Poor run a facility at Heroes Circle called Holy Innocents Centre, which provides assistance to women who are pregnant and have financial difficulties. Some women actually reside at the centre. It is one thing to discourage women from having an abortion, but to provide assistance to pregnant women in need is to be commended.
However, it only provides a short-term solution, because after the child is born, he or she will be the mother's responsibility for about the next two decades, and the Church will not be able to comfortably support mother and child during this time. But at least Father Ho Lung is doing what he can to ease the burden of pregnancy, and I appreciate him for this.
He then said to me: "Mike, if you meet any young woman who is pregnant and is considering an abortion, please send her to me."
As I spoke with this remarkable man and looked into his eyes while he expressed his views, I felt nothing but love and admiration for him and I realised that we have quite a bit in common. We are both hard-working and very driven and passionate about what we do. We both use the arts to get our points across, and we both love our country and its people and want the best for them. It is just that we envision different pathways for our people to be in a state of wellness.
During our conversation, it occurred to me that in this life, if we focus more on our similarities than on our differences, we would get much more work done.
I do not agree with Father Ho Lung's remarks about Lisa Hanna, or the Catholic Church's stance on abortion and artificial contraception, but I choose to focus more on what Father and I have in common.
I then asked him if I could take a selfie with him with my cell phone, and he readily obliged. As I took the pic, I said to him, "Father, why don't you put your hands around my neck like you are strangling me?" He laughed and said, "No, Mike, I am not going to do that." The pic that I took is now one of my favourites. Now, if I can just get him and Lisa to take a selfie together.
Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.