A Filipino-Canadian priest who has attracted thousands of followers worldwide with his “miraculous” healing powers is at the centre of an aborted multi-million dollar land deal, which has triggered calls for an investigation into his religious empire.
Known globally as the “Healing Priest”, Father Fernando Suarez, founded the Mary Mother of the Poor charitable organization (www.marymotherofthepoor.org
), a Canadian-registered non-profit society dedicated to alleviating poverty by providing food and other basic needs, as well as coordinating heath care and social services for youth.
Fr. Suarez is a member of the Companions of the Cross, and a priest in good standing with the Archdiocese of Ottawa. He, however, has been expelled from the Toronto Catholic Archdiocese, where Suarez was an associate priest at St. Timothy’s in North York in 2002 and 2003.
His Canadian-based charitable foundation has expanded into an organization with deep political reach and vast wealth. While the faithful flock in their thousands to Suarez’ healing masses in North America, in The Philippines entire cities come to a standstill when he arrives to lay hands on the poor and the ailing.
He returned home several years ago to take command of his religious empire that has been sending ripples of fear and apprehension through the rank and file of the conservative Roman Catholic Church with claims of his powers of healing and even resurrection.
The Catholic Church is not quick to recognize healing powers, reported the Inquirer, which recently did a three-part series on the aborted land deal.
As an organization, the powerful Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is respectful about Suarez’s claims of having healing powers, but some of its members are wary about his pursuits.
A Church official who requested not to be identified by the Inquirer said several bishops closed their doors on Suarez because his healing ministry had turned out to be a moneymaking venture.
The aborted land deal involves the San Miguel Corp. (SMC) and Mary Mother of the Poor Foundation (MMP).
SMC donated a 33-hectare property in Alfonso town, Cavite province, four years ago for Suarez to build a “mega-shrine” to the Virgin Mary that would have a statue of her taller than the 30-meter-high statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
The Inquirer learned that the donation required MMP to build the shrine within five years of the signing of the agreement.
This is the fifth year, but despite receiving millions of pesos from local supporters and millions of dollars from foreign believers, MMP has not shown SMC the plans for the shrine.
A source familiar with SMC’s side of the deal told the Inquirer that MMP had asked for an extension, but without any sign of progress in the concept for the shrine the company was unwilling to extend the agreement.
The two sides were expected to formally announce the termination of the donation agreement, the paper said.
As the controversy churns, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle has distanced himself from the aborted land deal healing priest Fernando Suarez. Tagle served on the foundation’s board of directors, but he left when he was named archbishop of Manila in 2011.
“There was trouble in the Diocese of Mindoro [where Suarez is affiliated], the clergy was divided and apparently he was one of the causes of that division. Then little by little, bishops here and there no longer allowed him to conduct healing sessions in their dioceses because of suspicion that he was making money out of healing and already fooling people,” said an unidentified Church official, quoted in the Philippines.
“He was healing here and there and asking for contributions, selling blessed rosaries and medals,” he added.
Another church official, former CBCP president and retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said that he publicly reprimanded Suarez in 2008 for celebrating Masses and holding healing sessions in his archdiocese without his permission.Cruz sounded disapproving of the healing sessions, saying such activities were “open to abuses, like superstition, hysteria, fanaticism and money.”
Cruz said he had heard “bad news” about Suarez.
“Among the bad news I remember was that he was a fake and that he was money-oriented and that his ‘healing ability’ was not true,” Cruz said, adding that he did not believe Suarez had healing powers.
Cruz said he had heard accounts of Suarez raising the dead, which he described as “incredible.”
“Raising the dead to life is not within human reach. It is not within human competence,” Cruz said.
He said he found it strange that Suarez went around looking for sick people when “honest-to-goodness” healers recognized by the Church like Padre Pio and Mother Teresa did not travel in search of sick people to heal.
“[The sick] people are the ones who go to them. It’s the sick who seek them. [Healers] don’t seek the sick, like Father Suarez,” Cruz said.
In an interview this week, Father Suarez said of the controversy; “I know myself and God knows who I am.”
“I know that all the criticisms and lies that have been published will help me become a better person, a better priest,” Suarez said on Saturday through his spokesperson, Deedee Siytangco, who is a member of MMP’s board of directors and has been his devotee since 2006.Siytangco said she had known Suarez for more than nine years.
“I’m among those people touched by his ministry. I had a brain tumor before but with the help of a good doctor and Father Suarez’s prayer, I was healed,” she said.
Suarez returned to Manila this month after a nine-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
“Father Suarez feels he doesn’t need to explain anything. He said he had forgiven all of his detractors and he would pray for them. For all these trials, he said he was privileged to have suffered with Jesus at this time when we are commemorating Lent,” she said.
As for the funds for building a Marian shrine on the SMC property, Siytangco said the money was intact and “funds are still coming as we speak.”
“We can start the project already. We don’t have all the funds but once we start it, more funds will come in for sure,” she said.
On insinuations that Suarez mishandled the foundation’s finances, Siytangco said the priest was “above all these.”
“He’s not the foundation. We have a treasurer, we have audited statements, funds are spent well,” she said.
Siytangco also defended Suarez from allegations that he was living a lavish lifestyle.
“He doesn’t even own a watch. Most of his T-shirts are given to him by friends but he gives them to other priests. He wears Crocs sandals but they’re fake, also given to him,” she said.
“You know, those that were published were half-truths but if you don’t tell the other truth, it becomes scandalous,” Siytangco said.
“We stand by him, the foundation stands behind him. We will continue his ministry, healing, livelihood, all the things that he does,” she added.
Siytangco also clarified that MMP still planned to build a Marian shrine on the Cavite property that SMC donated to Suarez’s healing ministry in 2010. A scale model of the Marian shrine shows a statue of the Virgin Mary towering over a cathedral, a livelihood center and a youth development center, among other features.
In 2008, over 8,000 people — more than 2,000 per mass — attended the Father Suarez’s Metro Vancouver healing masses this month in Coquitlam, Richmond, Burnaby and Maple Ridge.