A popular Filipino “healing priest” who was found not guilty of allegations that he sexually abused minors last month died of heart attack in Manila on Feb. 4.
Father Fernando Suarez of the Canada-based Companions of the Cross, collapsed while playing tennis. He would have turned 53 years old on Feb. 7.
Father Melvin Castro, a friend of Father Suarez, said the priest was brought to a hospital in Manila but was later declared dead.
“It was heart attack,” said Father Castro. “I was really shocked. I didn’t want to believe it at first,” he added.
A notification released by the Church said the priest “has been falsely accused” of the crimes.
“Last time we talked was when the decree came out that he was not guilty,” recalled Father Castro. “It’s as if the Lord just waited for the decree to come out,” he said.
Father Suarez was also in the news last year when several bishops banned him from their respective dioceses for failure to present the necessary permit to hold “healing” sessions.
Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, retired prelate of Lipa, said Father Suarez will be missed for his work for the poor.
The archbishop said the priest had often been supportive of the archdiocese.
“I pray that he will be rewarded for his great plans and achievement for the Church and for the least among the faithful,” said Archbishop Arguelles.
Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao said the death of Father Suarez was a reminder to everyone that “our life is always in the hands of God.”
“We come and go into this world. What is important is we are prepared to go home any time,” he said.
In October last year, Bishop Ongtioco banned the priest from celebrating Mass and administering sacraments in his diocese until allegations hurled against him were cleared.
Filipino faithful who had an encounter with Father Suarez remember him for touching their lives.
Ging Cueto, a dentist from the province of Romblon, said the priest had given the people in the province “a lot of positivity” amid all their difficulties.
Father Suarez had always emphasized good health for everyone.
“When one is sick, he will experience a process of healing through listening to the stories of successful healing of people or when he saw one have been healed because of faith,” the priest once said.
Born in 1967, in the village of Butong in Taal town, Batangas province, Father Suarez went to Manila and graduated with a chemical engineering degree from Adamson University.
After college, he entered the Franciscans but left more than a year later. He joined the Society of the Divine Word but was asked to leave after six months.
He joined the Companions of the Cross, a Canadian congregation founded in the 1980s and stayed with them. He was ordained in 2002.
Father Suarez’s reported gift of healing first became known abroad and later in the Philippines where he established the Mary Mother of the Poor Healing Ministry, a foundation to help the poor.
The foundation announced that in lieu of flowers, the family of the priest prefers donations to be made under the name of the organization.
“This is to continue the ministry he has started with his missionary congregation,” read an announcement from the foundation.
Jun Aguirre contributed to this report from Aklan.