Healing priest does so ‘many miracles like in the Bible’
MANILA, Philippines -- He could not believe his healing power. He wanted to run away from it.
A Canadian woman declared dead eight hours earlier, her organs ready to be harvested and donated, suddenly opened her eyes after Filipino priest Fr. Fernando Suarez prayed over her.
Suarez, who was then a seminarian, was stunned. “Let me out of here,” was all he could say, ready to flee.
He was supposed to go and see the woman earlier but he was not able to make it in time. When he arrived at the Ottawa Civic Hospital in Canada, it seemed too late. But Suarez went to see her anyway and, surrounded by doctors whom he requested to be present, he prayed over the woman.
The miracle happened.
The woman is now well, Suarez says, and has resumed her normal life.
That case, which happened almost nine years ago, is probably the most stunning of all, but Suarez continues to amaze, baffle and bring hope and joy through his ministry that has seen the healing of countless sick and infirm in many parts of the world, including the Philippines.
“It is not me,” he says casually. He is convinced that he is just a channel for God’s healing power.
The soft-spoken Suarez, a 2007 TOYM (The Outstanding Young Men) awardee for religious service, projects an ordinariness that is both pleasant and endearing. His boyish looks do not easily reveal “what God has wrought” through him. He does not have an electrifying aura nor does he shriek and shout to slay evil elements like some Bible-thumping televangelists do. Suarez goes about it gently, in his own soothing way, touching, praying over people, pleading for healing. And because he wants everything centered in the Eucharist, he always begins with a Holy Mass.
Like in the Bible
Miraculous healing continues to happen. People who have been assisting him for some time have witnessed the impossible.
Businessman Greg Monteclaro of Couples for Christ-Gawad Kalinga has seen it all. “Except the raising of the dead,” he says. “But the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk -- all that is told in the Bible -- I have seen it happen.”
In Bulacan, Monteclaro narrates, there was this young boy who was born with practically no bones. “He was soft -- like jellyfish. I was holding him in my arms when Father Suarez prayed over him. I myself felt the bones grow inside the boy’s body and suddenly there he was --walking.”
How does one explain that?
“My own problem here is that I have seen so many miracles, it has become so common to me,” Monteclaro says.
Not that he is complaining.
Journalist and documentarist Bernardo Lopez has his own share of miracle stories to tell and he continues to use his video camera to capture moments that he hopes would convince many of what God is doing through Suarez. He has avidly followed the priest and has uploaded images on YouTube which have been getting thousands of hits.
Boy from Butong
Born in 1967 (he turns 41 in February) in Barrio Butong in Taal, Batangas, Suarez grew up like most boys. (Taal’s antique basilica is touted as the biggest in the Far East. It is also known for the miraculous Virgin of Caysasay.)
His father, Cervando, drove a tricycle and his mother, the former Azucena Mortel, was a seamstress. The eldest of four children (he has a sister and two brothers), he attended public schools.
“We weren’t a particularly religious family,” he says. “Our family attended Mass maybe three times a year.”
At an early age, Suarez already knew how to earn a living. At 12 he rented out inflatables at Butong beach.
Healing at 16
Something happened when Suarez was 16. He came upon a paralyzed woman and took pity on her. “Naawa lang ako (I took pity on her).” He found himself praying over her and suddenly the woman was walking. He did not know what to make of it and did not talk about it much. It must have been discomfiting to a lad his age. Looking back, it all seemed so natural. But at that time, announcing it to the world was far from Suarez’s mind.
What was beginning to concern him was the call to the priesthood or religious life. “I didn’t respond. I didn’t know a priest.” How, where, when? He was waiting for cues and signs, but until they came, he just lived one day at a time, pursuing what needed to be done. He kept the call to himself, nurtured it “until lumago (it flourished).”
Going to the seminary was not an immediate option. Suarez went to Manila and graduated with a chemical engineering degree at Adamson University which is run by the Vincentian Fathers.
After college, Suarez entered the Franciscan Order (Conventuals). “After one-and-a-half years, I left. Then I joined the SVD (Society of the Divine Word) but I was asked to leave after six months.”
It was there, at the SVD Christ the King Seminary that, Suarez says, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him. “She told me that I would go to a far away place which was cold and windy, and there proclaim the word of God.”
Suarez was in his late 20s when he met a French-Canadian student and tourist named Mark Morin who invited him to Canada and even paid for his fare. They could have been partners in a business venture but Suarez wanted to pursue the priesthood. That was 1996.
He again tried the Diocese of Winnipeg to study as a diocesan priest but again, it did not work out and he was made to leave.
“I was an expensive venture, they said,” he says, chuckling. “They’d have to spend four-and-a-half years on me.” They preferred already ordained Filipino diocesan priests who were seeking a life abroad.
Companions of the Cross
And then he met priests of the Companions of the Cross (a Canadian congregation founded in the 1980s) and here he has stayed since. Because he had had previous religious formation and studies in philosophy and theology, it did not take long for Suarez to be ordained.
“I was ordained in 2002 when I was 35,” he says, “and I am the only one who was assigned to go worldwide soon after ordination.”
His superiors were aware of and recognized his gift and set him free to reach out to the world.
“I was nonchalant about all these. There was no pressure. I acted upon obedience and not on what I wanted. Remember, I had kept this gift for 20 years,” he says.
Suarez’s gift of healing first became known abroad and only later in the Philippines. He has visited many countries, some of them poor, like Uganda where he walked among refugees, orphans, people sick with AIDS, malaria and yellow fever and afflicted with evil spirits.
Fr. Jeff Shannon, who accompanies Suarez on his trips, recalls their bout with restless orphaned girls in Uganda.
“As they approached us for prayer after the Mass, they rested in the Spirit for hours, then cried, wailed and screamed as the Holy Spirit moved in to free and to heal [them]. After three hours of struggle they were delivered and they became as peaceful as doves, full of love. As they sang and danced their way back to their residence, they witnessed their dormitory light up inside, even though it was late at night and there was no electricity. One girl was healed of blindness.”
Miracle stories are recorded in the newsletter of Mary Mother or the Poor-Healing Ministry, a foundation Suarez established to help the suffering poor.
Mary Mother of the Poor
Eight years ago, while praying, Suarez had a vision where he saw Jesus pouring on graces upon him. He also saw poor children asking for help. He couldn’t understand the vision’s meaning at that time.
During a visit to the Philippines some years ago, 10 poor children approached him to ask for support for their studies. Suarez sent them money and as time went by, more support came from friends who shared his vision. Support came from Austria, Canada, USA, Germany, Japan, Italy, England, Switzerland, Uganda and the Philippines. This gave rise to the Mary Mother of the Poor Foundation (MMP) which aims to help the poor through better shelter, counseling and other programs, by coordinating with health and social services in order to help the sick and the aging, by teaching the tenets of the Catholic faith and by providing programs to help the youth become good citizens.
As high as Statue of Liberty
Soon to become the center of Suarez’s healing ministry is Montemaria (Matuko Point) in the outskirts of Batangas City. Set on a hill on 20 hectares of land, the center of the Oratory of the Blessed Virgin at Montemaria will have chapels, prayer gardens, Stations of the Cross, retreat houses, campsites, lodging houses, a center for the poor and even a replica of Mary house in Ephesus (ancient city in Turkey). The place is meant to draw pilgrims who want to renew their faith.
The Montemaria centerpiece is the 33-story-high statue of Mary Mother of the Poor which will be about as high as the Statue of Liberty and higher than Christ the Redeemer of Brazil. It will face the sea between Batangas and Mindoro, known to be one of the world’s richest in marine biodiversity.
The scale model was unveiled last August with Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles in attendance.
There are claims that the stones on Montemaria have caused healing for the sick and people have started going to the place to find out for themselves.
40-hour-vigil Jan. 11-13
Nestor Mangio, one of the architects and an avid supporter of Suarez, says the oratory is scheduled to be finished in September 2008. The project is not wanting in donors. In July, the Companions of the Cross, the congregation to which Suarez belongs, will put up a foundation in the Philippines.
A 40-hour vigil is scheduled from Jan. 11-13 and pilgrims are expected to come in droves. Suarez will be there.
And how does the healing priest relax? “I do sports, I love nature, I love talking to people. I read the spiritual classics -- St. Augustine, Francis de Sales. I also like Thomas Merton,” he says.
Has the surge of the crowds affected him? “Wala sa akin ’yun. (That’s nothing to me.)” He thinks people can easily approach him because “I am not threatening.” After Mass, he says, he prays and “this saves me.”
“I would like to think that after I’ve passed through this world, I’d have made a dent.”
For now, the words of Jesus to the suffering are enough to inspire him. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
(For more info visit www.fatherfernando.com or www.montemariashrine.com.)
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