Fr. Fernando Suarez of the Companions of the Cross, the priest most sought after in the country today, can draw throngs of thousands at every appearance. It is said that he has the gift of healing. With a touch he can cure cancer, make the dumb speak, make the deaf hear. He can even make the dead rise, as zealously covered in a national daily (though reports of the man's resurrection had been greatly exaggerated -- he died again three hours after.)
I first heard of Fr. Suarez in late last year. He was the guest presider on a televised Mass at SM. The main celebrant introduced the unassuming young priest and praised his special charism. Was there any doubt of the following that he was sure to gather?
Fr. Suarez makes no claims to his own greatness. Neither he nor his congregation seem to have capitalized on his gift, except perhaps to hold their healing crusades which assemble more often and to greater numbers and greater attention.
Of Fr. Suarez's gift I can make no judgment, having neither seen nor heard of spectacular cures from trustworthy and temperate witnesses. But neither do I deny the possibility that, beyond the ken of science, some people may be so favored by the Holy Spirit.
It is of the sea of devotees that assembles with Fr. Suarez that I wonder: Why do they follow? Is it for the hope of instant healing? Is it for the promise of miracles? Is it for that intrinsic inclination to commingle with crowds (and the more the merrier?)
More than the marvels, is there faith? Does this faith go beyond the man and into the province of God whom he claims is the source of his power? Does this faith find expression in hope and in charity and in justice and in repentance? If not, then Fr. Suarez might as well be street corner charlatan.
In other news: the patient-to-doctor ratio in the Philippines currently stands at 30,000:1. More than a thousand hospitals have closed since 2005. From 2000 to 2003, the Philippines lost 51,850 nurses. Over 5,000 registered doctors left from 2001 to 2004. At least 6,000 doctors are studying to be nurses. Senators, congressmen, and doctors squabble over finer points in the Cheaper Medicines Bill. And pharmaceutical manufacturing companies continue to make obscene profits.
But that's okay, right? Fr. Suarez is coming soon to a city near you.