Everyone is welcome in Fr. Dho’s house in Butong

Angel Thoughts

February was also the month two years ago when I lost my best friend, spiritual mentor, and healer. Fr. Fernando Suarez, founder of the Mary Mother of the Poor Foundation.

I went to see him play tennis at the Alabang Country Club courts, courtesy of some of his friends who were members there, for the 10th Fr. Suarez Cup. It was an annual meet for all priests, a fun event for all participants.

Pope Francis meeting with Fr. Fernando Suarez

That morning Fr. Suarez was happy that attendance was over 150 from all over the country. Dorms and the homes of his friends were opened for the out-of-towners and after a mass, the games were on.

Fr. Dho, as he was fondly called, had already played two sets against two opponents, but was raring for a third. He told me this opponent was a champ but he felt confident he could give a good fight.

Well, he did. By the middle of the game, he just collapsed to the ground. The club, unfortunately, did not have any emergency personnel. There was no emergency vehicle either. So a private car rushed the priest to the Asian Hospital, a good 20 minutes away. Fr. Dho died on the way. His bishop-protector, Bishop Antonio Palang, who has also passed away since then, was there to give him the last rites.

The motto of the tournament is Fr. Dho’s own battle cry, “Born to serve!” The Fr. Suarez Cup is now headed by Msgr. Ruben Labajo, Fr. Alex Cola, and Fr. Joseph Larida. 

Its latest tournament was held at Cebu Clergy Tennis Center Mabolo, Cebu City, thanks to the help of generous people, like Dickson and Jhong Tan, Richard Lee, Vilma Ouano, Frederic and Nancy Yap, Tey Lucas, Jeff Castro, Lou Abellana, Bing Suico, Carmen Sy, and Jojo Alquizola. There was also much support from Manila, such as from the author, Roland Son, Arch. Nestor Mangio, Baby Ignacio, Glenda Barretto, Alice Villanueva, Ambassador Manolo, Maritess Lopez, and the London group’s Annie Cruz. 

The players also felt blessed because the mass presider for the tournament was the Arcbishop of Cebu, Bishop Jose Palma, with concelebrant the Auxiliary Bishop Emeretus Antonio Racelis Rañola DD and other priests of Cebu. A total of 70 priests participated.

Let me share an inspiring testimonial from one of Fr. Dho's closest friend, Engr. Neil San Pedro, a businessman.

“I had the opportunity to witness his works in healing and helping our underprivileged fellowmen. After Fr. Dho’s passing, I had no idea I would be a part of continuing his legacy. When the opportunity knocked on my door, I immediately said yes. I volunteered to serve as contractor with the intention to share my experience as a civil engineer in furthering his work, in realizing his and our shared dream, the Fr. Fernando Suarez Healing Center in Butong, Batangas. As the construction progressed, I was further inspired to share my time and efforts in finishing this dream project. In fact, my older sibling Maritess shared with me that when Fr. Dho visited Milan, she introduced herself to him as my sister in a chance encounter. In response, he intimated to her that “Neil will build his ‘house’ in Butong.” My sister was surprised, as she knew I was kuripot (thrifty). Ultimately, this house that he referred to is the chapel where his remains lie, his final resting place. This home was to be known, as it is now, as the Fr. Fernando Suarez Healing Center. More than a memorial, it is a permanent home where everyone is welcome to seek refuge, receive hope, and feel our Lord’s presence. It will last for generations to come.”