March 24, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Checking up on the work of Food for the Poor in Jamaica

John F. FinkWhile I was editor of The Criterion, some of my traveling was done specifically to get stories for The Criterion. Two trips were to see what the organization Food for the Poor was doing. I was impressed with people I met who are doing amazing things for the poor.

My first trip with Food for the Poor was to Jamaica. There I met Father Gregory Ramkissoon, a little (5-foot-3-inch or so) native of Trinidad, who built a community of 70 or 80 families. Most of the families still lived in homes similar to those I’ve seen in slums throughout the world—in Palestinian refugee camps, in Peru, in India, and other places—tiny shacks made mainly of corrugated steel or tin, without running water or toilets.

But Father Ramkissoon, with the help of Food for the Poor, was building a concrete block building that was to serve as a home for abandoned children, victims of incest and those with Down syndrome. The project provided work for the people and taught them useful skills at the same time.

Another impressive priest was Father Richard Albert, pastor of St. Patrick Parish and St. Jude Parish, both in the middle of Waterhouse, the poorest and most violent area of Jamaica. He was a large man in his 40s, a native of New York City. As pastor of his parishes, he operated three schools, one for each parish and one for Riverton City, a community actually built on a garbage dump, with one water pipe for the 7,000 people who lived there. (Food for the Poor was in the process of building toilets and three more water pipes.)

Besides those duties, Father Albert was also editor of the archdiocesan newspaper (a well-edited monthly paper; we were given copies of a couple issues), and director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, director of evangelization and director of ecumenism for the Archdiocese of Kingston.

Father Albert also founded St. Monica’s Leper Home, where 28 lepers in various stages of leprosy entertained us with singing. I recall one leper named Norris, a blind man, who played the guitar while the other residents sang. An old woman named Lillian, with one foot, her nose and fingers missing, sang away and clapped in time to the music. A man who, we were told, was 99 years old, blind and toothless, sang a humorous song about mangoes. Young people were taking care of all these lepers with help from Food for the Poor, which supplied medical supplies.

Still another impressive man was Father Richard Ho Lung, a Jesuit priest of Chinese descent who founded the Brothers of the Poor. He was running a Faith Centre and another place called Jacob’s Well, caring for 110 homeless people and others who were severely mentally disabled.

We also visited a home for the elderly being operated by the Missionaries of Charity (St. Teresa of Calcutta’s sisters). And we visited a training center where young ladies were being taught to use sewing machines supplied by Food for the Poor.

It was a Jamaica that few tourists see.

(John Fink’s recent series of columns on Church history is now available in book form from Amazon. It is titled How Could This Church Survive? with the subtitle, It Must Be More Than a Human Institution.)

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