KINGSTON, Jamaica, June 20, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Although abortion is currently illegal in the Caribbean island of Jamaica, the effort to fight recent attempts at its legalization, as well as the back alley abortion trade, has required an enormous amount of energy and ingenuity.

The leaders in this effort are The Missionaries of the Poor (MOP), an international monastic order of brothers and priests, with over 500 members worldwide, founded in 1981 by Rev. Fr. Richard Ho Lung in Kingston, Jamaica.  The order also recently started a sisterhood for nuns as part of their work helping pregnant women and new mothers.

Relying exclusively on donations, the missionaries are dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor, the homeless, HIV/AIDS victims, mentally handicapped youth and adults, and the elderly.  Currently, they sustain missions in Jamaica, Haiti, Africa, India, the Philippines, and North Carolina.

LifeSiteNews recently interviewed Rev. Fr. Charles Susai, Secretary General and Project Co-ordinator of the MOP, to learn more about the group’s work.

The MOP, Rev. Susai told LSN, not only lead the way in fighting efforts to legalize abortion in Parliament, but they seek to provide an alternative to abortion for women in crisis pregnancies through their missionary efforts.

The Holy Innocents Women in Crisis Center, established by the MOP, is expected to be in operation in December 2011.  The massive facility in Kingston, Jamaica will house a daycare centre for up to 200 children, counseling rooms, medical centre and homes for pregnant women and new mothers.  The entire endeavor relies on the generous volunteer work of local medical personnel and donations.

A Pro-Life Apostolate

The MOP first felt the need for a pro-life apostolate in 2006 after two of the brothers found aborted babies thrown in a garbage dump.  Then, in 2008, international organizations and lobbyists, such as the European Union, put heavy pressure on Jamaica to legalize abortion, with the promise of funding. Jamaican politicians responded by tabling an abortion bill to legalize killing the unborn. 

The bill went as far as to say that if doctors refused to perform abortions they could be penalized for up to six months in prison and charged $250,000 Jamaican dollars.

“Jamaica is particularly aimed at because we are the biggest English-speaking island in the Caribbean. If you get through Jamaica, you can get through the entire Caribbean region,” MOP founder Rev. Ho Lung told Jamaica’s Gleaner News in March 2011.

With the threat of legalized abortion looming, Rev. Ho Lung, who is well known in Jamaica, “took the abortion debate to the streets.”

Together with lead members of the ‘Coalition for the Defense of Life’ in Jamaica, he spearheaded a series of pro-life breakfasts designed to open the abortion debate and inform concerned parties, gathering together pastors, teachers, doctors, students, professionals, and entrepreneurs.

Over a period of six to eight months in 2009, the breakfasts were held almost every other week.  Doctors Doreen West and Wayne West of the Coalition in Defense for Life would show the reality of abortion and explain how, from a medical point of view, abortion would not solve any problems.

“We initiated it, but it’s the people who are calling for more of these meetings because they don’t know much about abortion and they want to learn,” Rev. Ho Lung said.

According to a Don Anderson poll survey from 2009, published in Jamaica’s Daily Observer News, just under 70 percent of adult Jamaicans were against abortion. Sixty-seven percent said that they opposed abortion, 15 percent were in favor, and 18 percent were “ambivalent” on the issue. The polling company concluded: “it is safe to make the point that Jamaicans are pro-life supporters.”

Rev. Ho Lung also confronted the issue before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, demanding that they listen to the voice of the people and deliberate the issue fully before pushing abortion legislation. He appealed to Jamaica’s Christian heritage and its Constitution, which, he said, was designed to promote life.

Following debate, the Jamaican Parliament quietly put the abortion bill aside, protecting the legal status quo in the country.

The Holy Innocents Center

Rev. Ho Lung says his motivation for the Holy Innocents Women in Crisis Center in Kingston came in response to a question Parliamentarians put to him, “what is your answer to the abortion issue?”

While he agreed that for many women it could be a burden to have another child, Rev. Ho Lung has encouraged women to bear the burden, while simultaneously seeking to provide the means to make their burden lighter. “These little babies are either people or they are not people,” he said. “We cannot say they are tissues they might be in the womb but they have a separate existence from the mother.”

The title for the Center came from the Biblical account of the holy innocents, who were killed by King Herod in his search for the Christ Child.  Construction began on the Center in January 2010, and will open in December. However, pregnant mothers and teenage pregnant girls already receive support, encouragement, and aid through the MOP.

Although the MOP have over 200 brothers and 6 priests working in Kingston, in order to better provide care for the mothers and their babies, the missionaries founded an order of sisters.  Currently, the order has six nuns who will be working as full-time directors of the new facility.

Two of the sisters, both from Canada, have six and thirty years experience, respectively, in nursing.  There are also two American sisters and two Jamaican sisters, and other young women interested in the order.

At the medical center pregnant mothers will be offered assistance, such as counseling and medical support.  The facility already has doctors and nurses from Kingston who have offered to volunteer their time, as well as others in clinics where the pregnant mothers can be sent for further consultation. 

“The doctors have been extremely kind, knowing the type of work we do, so they volunteer,” Rev. Susai told LSN.

In addition to the doctors and nurses, 60 volunteers help to run the facility, which is capable of housing up to 20 women.  The missionaries will hire some paid staff to work in the daycare, which will support up to 200 babies.

Sr. Joanne Belmonte of the MOP testified that receiving an ultrasound machine was, for the missionaries, a “day of joy and tears.”  “I don’t know who was more excited, the moms or us,” she said.

“This machine will be a very useful tool/weapon in our new ministry of trying to protect unborn babies in the mother’s womb,” she added. “That is what Holy Innocents is all about - reaching out to these moms/women offering them a different ending.”

“We will be offering counseling for the pregnant women in crisis, along with spiritual support and Pre and Post Natal care. If need be we will offer lodging for the pregnant women. After the birth of the baby and if mom has to go to work/school, we will offer Daycare.”

Funding the Pro-Life Cause

Despite the tremendous generosity of doctors, nurses, and volunteer staff who donate their time to the cause, the MOP require further funding, volunteers, and supplies in order to be able to open the Holy Innocents Center this December.

“We are not very good beggars,” Rev. Susai told LSN, “we trust a lot in the Lord.”

The group fundraises through a musical group that does traveling performances, as well as through responses to their newsletter and friends of the missionaries.

“We need volunteers as well monetary support given the fact that our works are all done free of cost,” Rev. Fr. Charles told LSN.

To learn more about the Missionaries of the Poor, visit their website http://www.missionariesofthepoor.org/

Rev. Fr. Richard Ho Lung, founder of the MOP, also appears weekly on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) on a show called “Church and the Poor”.

To support or volunteer with the Missionaries of the Poor in their apostolate and pro-life work, click here.

Donations may also be sent to the MOP in the U.S.:
Missionaries of the Poor
P.O. Box 29893
Atlanta, GA 30359