VIENNA, Virginia= He strode down the length of the altar of the Our Lady of Good Counsel church, the strand of humanity waiting for his touch. Some fall back mysteriously but orange-vested volunteers stood behind them, ready to catch their fall. They quickly regain their equilibrium, professing they’ve been cured, and adding their testimony about a man whose name has become, for many desperately ill, synonymous with hope.
It was the first time renowned healing priest Fr. Fernando Suarez visited the area, saying Mass in churches in Gainesville, Falls Church and Vienna under the auspices of the Filipino Ministry of Northern Virginia.
The 41-year-old priest, born in Taal, Batangas but now holding Canadian citizenship, was recently mired in controversy. He was banned from saying Mass in the Archdiocese of Toronto, and forbidden to perform healing services in certain Central Luzon parishes.
Reports say Fr. Fernando was banned in Canada because he violated the Doctrine of Faith disciplinary norms specified in the Instruction on Prayers for Healing. But in a thanksgiving dinner after the last day of his healing masses, Fr. Fernando agreed to speak with ABS-CBN’s Balitang America and Manila Mail, to finally air his side on the controversy.
“I never violated any rules,” he stressed. “It was a misunderstanding by my superiors (Fr. Suarez belongs to the Companions of the Cross based in Canada). Sumusunod lang ako sa utos ng aking superiors.”
“As a matter of fact, my superior has written a letter to the Cardinal (Thomas Cardinal Collins is the Archbishop of Toronto) clarifying everything, that it was not my fault because I’m an ordinary priest acting under the directives of the superior,” Fr. Suarez disclosed.
“The accusation against me was that I was behaving like a chaplain, a position I should not embrace,” he explained, adding in jest, “In layman’s term I’m working too hard without pay.”
“Some people are trying to sensationalize this. Nagkataon naman na maraming pari na ginanun ang cardinal na yun ng Toronto because it’s their prerogative, to screen kung sino ang puwede mag-misa at kung sino ang di-puwede mag-misa. I wasn’t the only one,” Fr. Suarez averred.
He admitted that politics pervades nearly all human activity. “Siguro produkto na rin ako ng tinatawag na politics but malinis ang konsensiya ko, it’s not my fault,” he averred. At any rate, he said, talks are already under way between his congregation and the Archdiocese of Toronto to lift the ban.
He blames other church leaders back home for blowing the incident out of proportion. “The news that spread is that it’s all over Canada. No, it’s just one diocese. I’m not banned in all Canada,” Fr. Suarez explained.
“That’s one of the problems when you are featured in media,” he says of his recent popularity, “talagang titirahin ka. I’m ready for that, I have nothing to hide.”
Leaders of the Filipino Ministry strictly enforced rules imposed by the Archdiocese of Arlington precisely to avoid “misunderstandings” that could get Fr. Suarez in hot water again.
Ed Tiong of the Filipino Ministry disclosed that they coordinated with the diocese as early as January for Fr. Suarez’s visit here. “They said that if you want Fr. Suarez to be in the parish, the two things they asked are the bishop’s permission and the pastor’s permission. We met both those needs, the bishop (Paul Loverde) was very aware of the situation in the Philippines and granted his permission,” he explained.
“The diocese is a very welcoming diocese and they hold regular healing services, every third Thursday of the month and other parochial vicars do hold their own healing ministries as well. So this not anything different, that the Diocese of Arlington is not aware of. They’re familiar with healing ministries,” Tiong emphasized.
Organizers forbade taking pictures of the Mass and the healing service inside the church. They also enforced a no ticket-no entry rule, partly out of safety concerns. But no one was turned away, especially in the healing service that follows the Mass. At the Our Lady of Good Counsel, those without tickets were ushered into a waiting room until those inside the church itself had finished and could be ushered out.
“They had certain guidelines we had to adhere to. On of these is they wanted to make sure there was crowd control, that we are following the liturgical norms of the Church, that we don’t have any chaos or hysteria in the crowd,” Tiong said.
In that one afternoon that we caught up with the Mass and healing service, Tiong estimated the throng at over 2,000 people, including hundreds of volunteers who acted as everything from parking marshals to ushers to catchers of people who black out during the healing service. It was in fact, one of the best organized Fil-Am events this reporter has seen here.
Manuel Requiron came all the way from Long Branch, New Jersey with his family. He said his trust in Fr. Suarez was bolstered by what he witnessed. When it was his turn in the queue, Requiron said he collapsed, something he still has trouble explaining.
“Ako nga, bigla tumumba. Nagulat na lang ako walang nangyari sa akin. Pagka-hawak sa akin, tumumba ako, parang wala naman sumalo sa akin pero dahan-dahan ako nahiga,” he said.
Sterling resident Cecilia Yanzon recounted how she could suddenly move her big toe after being touched by Fr. Suarez. She said arthritis and gout made it difficult and painful to move her left foot’s big toe, but she was happy to show us how easily she could move it now.
Tess Bonzon of Germantown, Maryland said she is undergoing dialysis. “He touched my stomach and my neck and my head,” she recounted. “Parang magaan sa katawan. Kasama sa panalangin, umaasa ako,” she said.
Ruby Barbosa of Herndon was standing by the curb when a van drove up. An East Asian-looking couple struggled to disembark their infant child who was hooked up to an oxygen tank and an apparatus that gave off a shrill alarm that caught everyone’s attention. It was obvious the child was in dire condition. Volunteers rushed them ahead of the queue.
Barbosa’s eyes welled at the sight. She recalled how her own son had spent much of his early years in and out of the hospital. “He was very sickly when he was small. He spent his first birthday in the hospital and we often had to call an ambulance to take him to the hospital. As a mother you can not take seeing your son suffer like that,” she said.
But they met “a lady” who had been cured herself in Medjugorje who wanted to see her son. Barbosa said her son’s health improved after that encounter, ending the rushes to hospital. “You should see him now,” she beams.
“It’s really your faith that heals you, nothing else” she stressed. “As Fr. Suarez said, with God there is nothing impossible. If you believe in Him, offer everything up to Him, everything’s gonna be alright,” she declared.