A DAY IN THE LIFE OF FR. FERNANDO SUAREZ - AUGUST 2, 2008
Search the internet, blogs or even YouTube and you will find the number of personal accounts, stories, and news articles on this charismatic Filipino-Canadian priest multiplying at an exponential rate. In this year alone, Fr. Suarez estimates that nearly one million people have attended one of his various Masses across three continents!
Indeed in the past 24 hours, Fr. Suarez would celebrate the Eucharist in two different countries! Friday evening at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, USA with 4,000 in attendance and twelve hours later Saturday morning at St. Joseph’s in Guelph (a small city an hour’s drive west of Toronto, Canada in a neighboring diocese), where 2,000 gathered. The latter, remarkable considering the capacity of the Church holds 800 people and the pastor told me hardly any advertising of this event was done.
This brief opportunity just happened to coincide with a week long vacation Fr. Fernando had, as he prepares for an upcoming three-week trip to Australia. The excess crowds were patiently waiting in the Church’s hall downstairs, or across at a local elementary school’s gymnasium. In both locales, large projection screens and speakers delivered Father’s homily and service.
Although the media has largely focused their attention upon the thousands of healings brought forth by the participants themselves; little has been written of either Fr. Fernando’s hectic schedule; and the personal sacrifices friends and family have made nor to the power of his homilies as he proclaims God’s steadfast love and desire to heal us all of our brokenness. Be it physical or on a more intimate and deeper emotional level. You can ask any of Fr. Fernando’s closest friends and they will tell you how he’s lucky to sleep 2 to 4 hours a night and how his cell phone constantly buzzes.
Indeed, he confided in me that he receives over 10,000 emails a month. To this I quipped that he should be dubbed “the Patron Saint of the internet.” With cell phones and the internet, the testimonies of healings and the story of one priest’s devotion to Jesus through the intercession of the Blessed Mother have reached a global audience!
My wife and I had the chance to see our close friend as we picked him up from the airport and drove him in our Corolla to Guelph. Our God is a God of wonder and little did I know the surprises in store both for myself and those waiting in attendance.
Coming home on Thursday night, I received a short message on our answering machine. “Hello Tom, Air Canada 8:30.” Browsing Pearson Airport’s official website I found two flights from Newark to Toronto. One at 8 AM the other at 9. With mass scheduled at 11 AM, I knew time was of the essence since we still faced an hour’s drive westward on the 401. So we arrived by 7:45 AM at the airport and quickly found parking at a prime location.
By 8:45, my wife looked at me and said, “Where is he? You better call him?” Unsure if the contact number I had was his or not, I tried it thinking it’s probably that of a Filipino contact in New York. A man answered, “Hello” to which I replied, “Yes, can you tell me what flight is Fr. Suarez on?” I only recognized the voice when he replied, “Tom where are you, I’m already here?” “Here? Where? I’m at Terminal 1 (where Air Canada flights land)” Fr. Fernando answered, “I’m at Terminal 3, I took Continental Airlines!"
Fifteen minutes later, we finally met our friend along with Fr. Jeff Shannon and Manny and Rhorie who work for MARY MOTHER OF THE POOR-USA. By now, companions of mine (unaware of where I was) phoned telling me that they may not be able to save us any seats as the church was already full!
Upon leaving the airport, Manny in the car with Fr. Jeff trailing behind us, rang asking “Do you know of any place to eat as none of us had breakfast yet.” I told him that I’ve never been to Guelph before and have no idea.
In that 40 minute drive, we spoke of everything that has happened in our lives over the past three months! Fr. Fernando was happy to be here as this would be the first time he would see his younger sister Shirley with her newborn son, Sean! Like me, we all try to see Father in the brief times before or after one of his healing masses.
Of everything we conversed about one particular story struck me. Fr. Fernando told me of his devotion to the Miraculous Medal which he wears along with a Scapular and Crucifix. Pointing to it, he told me that this particular medal was given to him several years ago; by a nun who happened to walk pass him on a busy street in Ottawa. She looked into his eyes and then stopped. Telling him, “I see the eyes of Jesus in you.” At that moment she took out her Miraculous Medal and handed it over to him saying, “This was given to me in India by Mother Teresa and now I wish to give it to you.”
In my five years of knowing Fr. Suarez and of studying in depth the lives of some of our greatest Saints; I’ve come to learn that those who walk closely with God can recognize the holiness in others. It’s as if they can see the purity of a person’s soul and the strength of the Holy Spirit that resides within.
Such extraordinary daily events make Fr. Fernando a truly blessed person but for him they serve to simply strengthen and re-affirm his unique mission in life. He remains continually humble and in awe of God’s grace.
Arriving in Guelph we turned onto Wellington Street in search of a local Tim Horton’s to get some coffee and a quick breakfast. As we passed one fast food outlet and another I quickly noticed a large “family style” restaurant with an interesting name, “Angel’s Dinner.” Now it was 9:45 a.m. and we rushed inside. The place was packed and after several minutes, it seemed that breakfast may not happen!
Guided perhaps by the Holy Spirit, I mustered the courage to seek and then speak with a lady who seemed to be directing the servers. I told her, “Have you ever heard of St. Joseph’s parish?” To which a blank stare was answered. Then I said, “Could it be possible to have someone take our order? You see, there in the corner are 2 of my friends. They are priests who travel the world. They just came from New York and a few thousand people are expecting them within the hour.” She listened politely and within 30-seconds orders were placed with Fr. Fernando wanting a veggie omelet and coffee just black.
After enjoying the meal and sharing a couple of fond memories, my wife asked for the bill. Two minutes passed by and the lady whom I spoke with came to our table to tell us, “Do not worry about this bill. It’s on me! Have a great day!” She had never met nor heard of Fr. Suarez yet somehow our Lord impressed upon her heart to do such a generous act.
These are the kinds of stories that each of us need to share with one another. Our Lord is alive and well. He moves and inspires people to help others often in the subtlest of ways.
We arrived at St. Joseph’s with just 15 minutes to go. We were quickly introduced & warmly received by the main Pastor Fr. Ken Miskiewicz. As Fr. Suarez was looking over the readings and attending to other last minute details, Fr. Ken told me how someone (a local businessman) anonymously donated 2,000 bottles of water in anticipation of the crowds! When we give to Jesus and serve Him, he will always provide, was the thought that came to me upon hearing this surprise!
HOMILY – 11 AM at ST. JOSEPH PARISH
Delivered in Fr. Fernando Suarez’s own words:
(This Homily was done spontaneously with no notes or preparation! Here for the first time in print, you the reader can gain a window into the power of his homilies. Note how he uses humor while at the same time delivering the Good News on a personal yet easily relatable level.)
Good Morning everyone!
Last night, I was in Newark and as I entered the Cathedral at 8 PM. Fr. Paul Lehman (District Director of Bukas Loob Sa Diyos Newark) asked me, “Are you aware that you have Mass tomorrow at 11 AM in Guelph (Canada)?” Further adding, “How is this possible?” I replied, “I don’t know. I’m going to fly!” (Audience laughs)
The Mass ended around midnight and by 5 AM, I was already at the airport. I asked our Lord, “God, you want me to be in Guelph.” I don’t know how I was able to come here. Our Lord provides for everything. God even feeds me. We went to a restaurant in a hurry. Two of my confidants went to the manager and told them that many people were waiting for this Healing Mass. In the end, the manager came to our table to pay! Free breakfast, not because of me but because of all of you here!
This happened to St. John the Baptist when we serve the real Jesus. He (Christ) will do everything and anything for us. In the Sacristy, one of the priest told me (regarding the atmosphere of the Church) this feels like Easter or Christmas. Isn’t this the way it should always be?
Jesus rose from the dead, in order for us to have someone to hang onto in times of difficulties & trials. You are all here because a loved one is sick or you yourself have cancer (etc.) But the main reason is because God called you here. He is going to give His Son Jesus through the Eucharist to heal us. We have only one healer.
This is all too humbling for me. Some tell me of their particular sickness to which I draw a blank. “You’ve never heard of this type?” “No,” I reply, “I’m not a doctor.” I never imagined that I would heal (be an instrument of God) but rather preach. God has his own plan for those who believe and are faithful like St. John.
Yesterday, I met a couple who told me they traveled all the way from Florida. I answered, “I hope you are not disappointed.” (Crowd laughs) There was one lady who came from California. In the end, I gave her a hug and said, “God loves you!” She cried and looked at me, “Father that was worth the trip!” There is such a great hunger and need for love yet it is so hard for it to penetrate into our bones and being. I hope you realize this very truth that He (God) loves each and every one of us. God is so faithful and loving and desires to make Himself available in every Sacrament. A Sacrament is not a Sacrament without the very Presence of Jesus. Jesus is so powerful and society (at large) is trying to kill God who is within us. (Since we are created by Him and in His Image.) Mary, Our Blessed Mother knew of this truth and I continually invoke Her intercession.
I was so young, 16 when I first encountered a manifestation of God’s power to heal. I knew no prayers other than the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. As I recited them, lo and behold she (the lady) stood up and walked. I was frightened!
These are the only prayers I do when I’m praying over people. Mary is so powerful and so too is St. John because of their faith in God. Some people tell me, “Why should I pray/ask Mary? She is only a human being.” To which I reply, “Why then are you asking me to pray for you. I too am a human being!”
Last night I met a troubled boy whose grandmother told me was very angry. He was expelled from his last school for bringing in a weapon. The boy, 9 years old came to me and wanted a photo. I forced myself to smile as it was already midnight and I was tired. He was so pleased that he gave me $US20. I told him, I would give this to the poor as I embraced him. Sometimes I have to push myself to be conscious of what I’m doing. I prayed, “God give him the grace to experience your love,” and touched his forehead adding “Don’t be angry.” At 3 AM (this morning – 3 hours later) I get a phone call from the boy’s grandmother saying he cried for 2 hours non-stop and that his facial expression changed to that of a lamb!
How much more can we have when we receive Jesus! We need to learn to forgive others and to break our hardened hearts. We deprive ourselves from experiencing the presence of God since He is not our priority. There is so much helplessness and fear. Look up. Look to the Cross. “Come to me, all of you heavily burdened.” Do not be afraid if you have cancer, etc. With so many who are ill, perhaps that is why these Healing Masses are so popular. (Crowd laughs knowing Father is joking.) God offers you permanent joy!
I first met Bong a young 35 year-old American scientist suffering from pancreatic cancer a couple of years ago in Ottawa. Doctors gave him 2 months to live. Now two years have passed and while I was in a conference in San Francisco, I received an email from someone saying, “Father, there’s this guy (Bong) whose suffering in great pain but is refusing to enter the ambulance until he sees you.” I went to him bringing a ciborium with Jesus. “This is Jesus, the Body of Christ. He is here!” The moment that host touched his tongue all pain immediately disappeared. The lady who brought me there flipped. “Father, I saw him in pain dying.” Praise the Lord!
This past February, Bong attended my 6th anniversary celebration as a priest. “Father, my cancer is still here but you and Jesus have given me a sense of hope to live. I now live life to its fullest as if I do not have any cancer.”
Sometimes we Catholics don’t fully know who Jesus is. Some parents teach their kids about Jesus as if it’s an exam. So when they finish school, no more exams, no more Jesus. Don’t just go to Jesus when you need something. Go to Him seeking a personal relationship. You will find that He will change your life. Have the strength and peace the world cannot give. This comes only from God, the God of eternity who is so good, magnificent and omnipotent and who loves us all.
Fr. Fernando then began a general prayer for healing, “Merciful and loving God; you called all these people from various countries, heal them of . . . Lord God, grant them the grace to forgive and to remove their anger and bitterness . . . Thank you oh Lord God!"
At this point, several people in the pews are openly weeping as if from just Fr. Suarez’s words a heavy burden was being lifted!
After the final blessing, Fr. Suarez then began to pray over each and every person individually. This was to last till 4:15 PM with him only stopping for a minute to drink some water or when moving down to the church hall.
As one of the catchers, I saw scenes that I’ve become rather accustomed too. Namely, someone complaining they cannot hear in one ear or of pain in their backs, etc. Seconds later, I see that very same person now smiling and praising God! As usual, there are several medical doctors who with a notebook are taking down their names and asking for more details.
In all my years of attending Father’s Healing Masses (which I know that every Mass is a healing one), that particular Mass yesterday was a very powerful one. When we went downstairs, I was overwhelmed by the large numbers of people sitting in wheelchairs. Fr. Fernando quickly went to the first person told them “get up” and they did so instantaneously! In fact this happened to the first 15 in a row and all I now saw were men and women pushing their wheelchairs out of the room to make space for those standing behind them and awaiting their moment to experience God’s love through Fr. Suarez’s intercession. The atmosphere in the room was one of great awe and electrifying. I asked a family member “How many years has he been in a wheelchair unable to walk?” With tears of joy in her eyes, she replied “40!”
After Mass, we had dinner and some quiet time with the Church’s Pastor, Fr. Fernando, and a few members of his family and close friends.
By 5:30 PM, Ivanka and I left heading back to Toronto overjoyed/in awe with the day’s events and what we were now experiencing right before us. Fr. Suarez would be driven by another friend to a local hotel to finally catch up on sleep before boarding another flight out to the West Coast early Sunday morning!
TOMISLAV PRUGO, M.A., B.Ed.
MARY MOTHER OF THE POOR
Chairperson for Education