So sorely maligned, so sadly mourned
Matey Alberto (The Philippine Star) - March 8, 2020 - 12:00am

With Fr. Fernando Suarez’s sudden passing, I wish to contribute my own eulogy for the good priest, and have him remembered kindly by a world that is all too often harshly judgmental if not altogether predatory.

“We quickly saw how very easy he was to get along with, a simple man with simple likes and little sophistication,” says the author.

About a decade ago, the best of Filipino-Americans in Southern California put together an event to introduce this diminutive, self-effacing man to this part of the world. We were doing so on his request, in order to introduce him to the faithful in Los Angeles and also help him build a church that was to be his base, where he could work better to fulfill his mission of healing, which by then had a growing following of the faithful.

In a visit to Las Vegas during the course of production, he and I were assigned by our hosts to a couple of rooms that shared a jack and jill bathroom. I was initially shocked by his instant familiarity: barely knocking on the door to see if I was available to chat with, asking if I had an extra comb because he forgot his,  requesting me to fix the collar of his denim jacket. Our hosts and I also had a full half of the next day getting to know this charismatic man who candidly spoke of his early trepidations about entering the seminary, his difficulty with the vow of obedience, the extraordinary events that made him listen to God’s voice and how he instinctively ran away from his very first miracle, when a lame beggar that he touched suddenly stood up and started to walk.

We quickly saw how very easy he was to get along with, a simple man with simple likes and little sophistication.

The hijacking of Heal LA

It was also on that Las Vegas trip that we first noticed a brewing difficulty. 

Fr. Suarez had a cordon sanitaire, a group of people that, according to him, needed to work with us.  A group of loud people who tried to bamboozle the friend I had in tow into making a donation – complete with an exact 6-figure amount after they learned of my friend’s prominent last name – for the construction of the shrine for which our group was working to generate funds. I had to tell the brazen vultures that there was little left for their kill, as my friend’s family had already shouldered part of the construction of the giant statue that would mark the harbor where the future shrine would rise for Our Lady of Montemaria.

With various professionals at the top of their games collaborating on the event, the Los Angeles Sports Arena was filled to the rafters, at its full capacity of 15,000 attendees. It was a highly successful project with a well-applauded program carried out on a beautiful stage and featured a choir of angelic voices, a 3-minute video that succinctly traced the history of healing starting from Jesus Christ down to its various charisms manifested through the ages and culminated in a solemn mass officiated by Fr. Suarez himself.

We producers were ecstatic with the obvious success of our joint efforts. Except for the fact that during the offertory, another set of collection envelopes, distinctly different from ours, were mysteriously being circulated among the audience as well.

Simply put: Heal LA, our meticulously planned, well-executed labor of love, had been infiltrated and our target collection amount was sabotaged.

In reviewing the disappointing outcome of our efforts, a friend succinctly simplified what was to be the norm within Fr. Suarez’s ministry  with the following imagery:

Fr. Suarez would walk among the crowds, healing the sick and blessing everyone. Unbeknownst to him, the people he trusted followed closely behind, baskets outstretched to catch whatever largesse they could collect from a grateful public. Fr. Suarez himself would never look back, trusting that he was in the company of kind hearts as well-meaning and altruistic as his.

Keenly disappointed that we could not possibly remedy the situation without encountering malevolent opposition, the good people that produced Heal LA quietly disbanded and henceforth stayed away from any more involvements with Fr. Suarez’s mission.

A  fractured friendship

Back in the Philippines a few years later, I attended a healing mass in Makati which Fr. Suarez officiated. When he saw me in line for his blessing and I told him why I was there, he held both my hands and prayed a bit longer than he did for the others ahead of me. Then he looked at me and confidently said: “Ayan, wala na.” True enough, the pesky lump which had bothered me for a year was no longer evident and has not returned since that encounter.

Again I bumped into Fr. Suarez two years after. I had just crossed the street from the Rockwell Mall to go home late that night.  He saw me first and was suddenly in front of me, his eyes as big as his smile was wide. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked him if he could make some time to pray over two family members who were sick. He said he was leaving for Rome within the week and in fact had just come from a despedida in his honor, and the remaining days ahead were already crowded with appointments. Nonetheless he set a late night date before the day of his departure and showed up at my family’s condominium, true to his promise. He refused to accept my token thanks and instead asked me if I could meet with him after his return from Rome, so that I could write new brochures and flyers that his office was producing for circulation.

By then I was aware of the problems he was having, and wondered if the same vultures still surrounded him, enjoying the kill they could make out of this guileless, well-meaning man. I had no doubt that whatever hushed whispers circulated about him, the Fr. Suarez I knew remained pure in purpose, and innocent of the complexities of whatever machinations were being weaved by elements intent on perpetuating the benefits they gained from his naivete.

While waiting for his return to the Philippines, I visited his website to obtain the phone number that he said was best to call him at. I was shocked to read therein other events and solicitations that had nothing to do with Fr. Suarez’s healing mission. Neither was the phone ever answered at the number I was supposed to call.

Thus was forever cut the link I would ever have with him.

And now I only wish I had been brave enough to keep our friendship going, instead of abandoning him to that sordid politicizing, self-serving bunch.

I was unable to attend the last rites for him.  But a close friend of mine went to his wake at his parents’ home in Batangas, and palpably felt the jolt of irony that attended Fr. Suarez’s short life and brief prominence. Through all the unjust rumors that surrounded his vocation, his parents’ home remained simple, almost austere, devoid of any sign of the notoriety that maligned him all the way to the steps of the Vatican, where at least his reputation was at last reversed. In his life, the man simply couldn’t have been anything but a well-meaning, gullible and meek spirit led haplessly to the slaughter.  A lamb preyed on by wolves of the fiercest nature, now finally delivered from further damage by a just and loving God.

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