The death of healer Fr. Fernando Suarez on Feb. 2, 2020 still comes as a shock to his countless friends and those whose lives he had changed with his healing hands. The unfounded accusations, which brought him extreme spiritual, mental, and physical sufferings, were relieved with the exoneration of all charges against him by the Vatican a few months before he succumbed to a first-time heart attack.
On his final days, Fr. Suarez was hurt by the injustices against his good friend and protector, Bishop Antonio Palang, SVD, DD. Likha awardee Arch. Nestor Mangio, one of the closest friends and a staunch supporter of Fr. Suarez, remembers their last conversation about forgiveness the evening before the healing priest died. “I have forgiven them, the bishops and other bashers. But I want justice for Bishop Palang!” Fr. Suarez said. On April 21, 2021, just 15 months after the death of Fr. Suarez, the Bishop Emeritus of the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro passed away.
Who was Bishop Palang to Fr. Suarez? Let us hear from Fr. Jeff Shannon, now the director general of the Missionaries of Mary Mother of the Poor (MMMP).
Bishop Palang and Fr. Suarez enjoyed each other’s company. When Bishop Palang witnessed firsthand the powerful ministry of Fr. Suarez, he rallied behind the healing priest and supported the mission completely. The bishop told Fr. Suarez, “Your parish is the world,” and sent him out to heal the sick and drive away demons as Jesus instructed his apostles and future disciples to do.
The message of Fr. Suarez’s healing ministry, however, fell on deaf ears in the Philippines. It was shunned down most especially by the leadership of the local Church. Bishop Palang was the only bishop who staunchly stood up for him in the country.
Unfortunately, because of his unwavering support for Fr. Suarez, Bishop Palang was persecuted, and misunderstood by most of the upper clergy. He was also forced to resign early. He returned to his home in Consolation Cebu, where his illness got the better of him.
**A friend is one who overlooks your broken fence and admires your garden. —Anonymous**
Bishop Palang chose to live in a small shack in the MMMP compound, preferring a more ascetic living arrangement. He prayed daily in a simple, run-down chapel, together with a group of older women he had gathered and called his “prayer warriors.” They interceded each night to spiritually support the needs of the faithful under his responsibility. He quietly slipped funds to a number of old widows who would pass by the Bishop’s residence. Bishop Palang also spent his monthly allowance assisting the poor around him. “The needy in our midst should not be neglected,” he would say. He led by example and walked the talk.
“Did he exercise his role as a priest and as a Bishop without flaws and errors? Of course not. Name someone who did? He was also human and he made mistakes in the Vicariate,” intimates Fr. Jeff. “He would be grumpy and ‘hard headed’ at times, but those were the reasons he was loved so much by those who truly knew him.” Fr. Jeff is one of the many who will miss the bishop. “I am so thankful to Bishop Palang, as the last six years I spent on the island was possible because of his approval. My island experience has shaped me into the priest I am now.”
MMMP lay Bro. Eberhard Cajilog shared his recollections on Fr. Suarez and Bishop Palang. Whenever Fr. Suarez visited Mindanao, he would always share with the lay brothers his gratitude toward Bishop Palang. “Bishop Palang was like a father to him [Fr. Suarez] because he could easily confide to him matters of importance,” says Bro. Cajilog. “As friends, they both had the same qualities: A prayerful life, the love for our Blessed Mother Mary and the Holy Mother Church, a positive and happy outlook in life. The other brothers and I were really blessed to have them as our mentors.”
Now Bishop Palang and Fr. Suarez have met on the other side of life in heaven with Jesus and all the saints. How happy they must be reunited!
To Bishop Palang, for those of us who knew you, we love you and we will miss you! For those who judged and ostracized you, we ask forgiveness. May people be inspired by the example of your life as you stood by the truth until the end. Well done, good and faithful servant. May the light of Christ shine upon you and may you rest in peace.