I write this in the wake of the five-part series in the Inquirer about Fr. Fernando Suarez, known as “the healing priest,” who was mercilessly bashed to smithereens by some critics while he was abroad based mainly on what they had observed or heard, and with no damning documentation presented. It was only in the last part of the series that the priest, probably jet-lagged when asked to react, was given what looked like token space to air his side.
In Suarez’s absence it was Deedee Siytangco (former spokesperson of President Cory Aquino), a member of the board of the Mary Mother of the Poor Foundation (MMPF) that Suarez founded, who had to provide some answers to questions.
As someone said, “They shot him first and asked questions later.” His supporters and those who believe in him could only sigh, “It is useless to raise a howl. The damage has been done.” In other words, those who wished to put him in a bad light have succeeded. I quote a Suarez believer: “Ang Diyos may awa. At gaba.” (God shows mercy. And also punishes.)
The series sounded like a “killing-him-softly” type. I was waiting for a bombshell that never came.
As far as I knew, the story was supposed to be about why food and beer giant San Miguel Corp. was withdrawing its donation of a 33-hectare property in Alfonso, Cavite, from the MMPF. The story segued into the personal.
(A disclosure here: Early this year the Inquirer asked me to do the Suarez-San Miguel story, but I declined. By the way, I wrote a page 1 feature article on Suarez for the Inquirer in December 2007. That was when stories about his healing gift were beginning to spread.)
It was in Solita “Mareng Winnie” Monsod’s no-holds-barred TV show “Bawal ang Pasaway” on GMA’s Channel 11 (March 24 and 31) that Suarez was given full airing, for him to react to critics quoted in the Inquirer series. Irrepressible Monsod, a former economics professor, writes a column for the Inquirer.
“Bawal ang Pasaway” interviewed one unnamed critic who spoke in the darkness and whose voice had to be digitally changed. If I remember right, he spoke about the priest’s tardiness, his playing tennis, and his consorting with the rich, etc. I wanted to say, “Bring it on! Where’s the bombshell?”
The “Bawal” crew also interviewed Suarez’s supporters, the rich and the not rich who have been healed. And the poor, too, who benefit from the MMPF livelihood projects (like rosary making, running a resort in Taal, Batangas, etc.). The crew also went to the remote island in Mindoro Occidental where Suarez has a formation house for seminarians and an apostolate for the poor. Mindoro’s Bishop Antonio Palang, SVD, fully supports this endeavor, but some members of the Church hierarchy don’t want Suarez in their ecclesial territory.
Let me say here that in 2012, I met a member of a major religious order who told me that he was healed of terminal cancer after he attended a healing Mass with Suarez. He did not seek Suarez to have a personal meeting. They did not know each other. He merely stood in the crowd and prayed, perchance to be touched by healing grace. His doctors were baffled. He never tried to contact Suarez to tell him about the miracle.
As most persons with the gift of healing would stress, it is God who heals, not they who are weak and puny human beings.
I have written three Inquirer feature articles on Church persons with gifts of healing: Suarez, Fr. Efren “Momoy” Borromeo, and Sr. Raquel Reodica. Suarez founded the Mary Mother of the Poor congregation (he used to be with the Canada-based Companions of the Cross). Borromeo belongs to the Society of Our Lady of the Trinity. Reodica is a sister of the Religious of the Virgin Mary.
The three articles are among the 50 articles in my book “You Can’t Interview God: Church Women and Men in the News” (Anvil 2013).
To write these articles, I did not only interview Suarez (2007), Borromeo (2011) and Reodica (2005), I also immersed myself in each of their ministries, even experienced for myself the gifts of healing that God gave them. I observed the way they dealt with the people who came to seek their help. I had to set aside my cynicism, and see up close and listen to the ailing persons who needed healing. I did not set out to expose the healers as frauds or manipulators. And unless I learned about something very wrong and exploitative, I was not going to do a blanket judgment.
Each one has a particular way in ministering to the sick. Suarez begins with Mass, and after that he wades into the crowd to touch and pray over individuals. Only after Reodica has finished with her biblically inspired and evangelizing talks does she ask the group to do exercises with her. She then individually attends to each patient (even bathes some of them). Reodica, with her good humor, can make a group of patients break into laughter.
Borromeo has an “MRI eye.” He knows the basics of anatomy and can pinpoint, often with precision, where in the body the problem is. Because of his background in cosmic anthropology, Borromeo is able to explain “miraculous healing” in biblical, anthropological and spiritual terms. His doctoral dissertation is a treasure trove of “eidetic” insights. He encourages “healees” to write down their experiences so that others may learn from these.
I quote: “The testimonies have challenged my incredulity and made me conscious of my own biases and theological baggage. Gradually, I learned to approach patients, their faith rubbing off on me, not in my own terms but in theirs—with their dreams, fears, pains and joys. The shift to the inner realm of the heart is like treading holy ground, and there’s no other way but to go unshod.”
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