Thursday, April 24, 2014

JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Before and during Pope John Paul II’s second visit to the Philippines in 1995, the Inquirer ran many articles on him. One of the pieces I had to write was about his first visit in 1981. Good thing I still had my 1981 notes! With JPII’s canonization (also Pope John XXIII’s) set on April 27, I visit the 1981 scenes once again through that article. Here is a much shorter version:
Everything was at fever pitch by the time JPII went down the Alitalia jet and kissed Philippine soil. For the next six days (Feb. 17-22, 1981) of his pastoral visit, he became the darling of millions of cheering Filipinos. JPII, without really trying, had power. If only he would use it to cast down and castigate tyrants. 
Everywhere he went there was a throng, sometimes millions strong, that rushed to get a glimpse of him. There were oceans of people praying, shrieking, fainting, waving, sobbing. That was perhaps the most rousing welcome ever given a visiting foreign dignitary, unparalleled in the Philippines’ history.
The welcome was typical Filipino hospitality, Filipino affection gone wild and free.

Many wanted to cash in—dictator and street peddler, conservative and radical, sinner and saint, the Left and the Right. The Left-leaning People’s Assembly on the Pope’s Arrival (Papa) grabbed the opportunity to make an exposé of the evils that Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship stood for. At the mammoth gathering at the Quezon Memorial Circle, activists suddenly unfurled a big streamer on behalf of political prisoners. This caught the eye of the Pope.

The Marcos regime clumsily did all it could to put itself in the good graces of JPII and the foreign press. Marcos was perhaps apprehensive that the Pope might throw some invectives in his direction. A month before the Pope’s arrival, Marcos announced the “fake lifting” of martial law. Marcos tried his best to get JPII on his side and spoke of a revolution that was pounding at the gates.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Agnihotra for Earth's health

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

On April 9, Araw ng Kagitingan, I attended a workshop offered by kindred souls concerned about the healing of Earth and its inhabitants. But more than just being concerned about our wounded planet, these persons are preoccupied with the enrichment of our earthly dwelling and our own human lives.

Accepting the invitation was easy because the workshop was to be held in a farm set up and tended by friends of more than three decades, a place where I have felt at home since its beginnings. I wrote a cover story about this place in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine many years ago when it seemed so very far away, when little was heard about women of good education and comfortable means who put their hands on the plow and tilled fields. I am referring to my friends Emma Alday and Isyang Lagahit, who had left the comfort of convent life to dig into the riches of the earth.

Off I went to the farm in Tiaong, Quezon, site of the “Bahay Madre,” the cradle of the Susi Foundation that continues to serve farmers and advocates natural and organic farming and other soul-enriching pursuits. I was one of 20 or so persons of very diverse backgrounds who were seeking, if not already walking, the same less-trodden path.

Our group had a journalist (me), women farmers, a brass sculptor, a chemist, teaching scientists/agriculturists, information technologists, promoters of indigenous culture, a soprano and her Belgian husband, several NGO veterans, a young Frenchwoman from an NGO, two women from a shelter for abused children, and a transgender (now a woman). Four have had religious formation in a convent setting, and two were drug addicts who have recovered and who now help the young find wholeness.

“Agnihotra” practitioners freely shared (it has to be free) their knowledge and experience of this ancient yajna (ritual or sacrifice) that began in ancient Hindu civilization. Many Agnihotra practitioners around the world are into natural farming. Scientists are now discovering that Agnihotra resonates with their fields of expertise.

After almost a whole day of exercises, reflections and nourishing farm food, we were ready for Agnihotra. The word is derived from the Sanskrit agni which means fire, and hotra or healing. Agnihotra is a process of purifying the atmosphere through a especially prepared fire. It is performed at sunrise and sunset. The use of healing fire goes back to the ancient science of Ayurveda.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fr. Suarez says last Mass on Easter before returning donated land to San Miguel

The “healing priest” Fr. Fernando Suarez will celebrate his last Mass at MonteMaria in Alfonso town, Cavite province, on Easter Sunday after his Mary Mother of the Poor Foundation (MMPF) decided to return the 33-hectare property donated to it by San Miguel Corp. (SMC).
Suarez is known in the Philippines and abroad for his gift of healing. Many people who have experienced or witnessed the miraculous healing have confirmed the priest’s gift.
But like most gifted people, Suarez always says he is only a channel and that it is God who heals those who have faith.
Not all bishops welcome Suarez in their ecclesiastical territories and some have been speaking unfavorably of him in a recent series of reports on the Monte Maria property published in the Inquirer.
But Bishop Antonio Palang, SVD, DD Vicar Apostolic of the Vicariate of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro province, has issued a letter to dispel doubts about his integrity.
In that letter, Bishop Palang says: “To whom it may concern: Between March 5 and 9, 2014, a series of articles was printed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper. The article alleged irregularities in the charitable foundation called Mary Mother of the Poor that [Fr. Fernando Suarez] founded. In addition, his healing ministry and lifestyle were also attacked.
“I certify that the accusations in these articles are unfounded and not true. Fr. Fernando Suarez [of the] Missionaries of Mary Mother of the Poor is a priest of good standing in the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.”
San Mig and MonteMaria
Last month, the Inquirer published a five-part series that highlighted the withdrawal by food and beer giant San Miguel Corp. (SMC) of its donation of a 33-hectare property in Alfonso town, Cavite province, that would have been the site of an MMPF project, the MonteMaria Shrine complex, which would include a statue of the Virgin Mary taller than the 30-meter Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Among the reasons cited was failure of the MMPF to erect the structures within five years of the donation.
The series also quoted critics who questioned Suarez’s ministry and lifestyle.
Suarez was in the Holy Land when the series was published. In his absence, MMPF board member Deedee Sytangco (former spokesperson of President Cory Aquino) offered some explanation.
Only after Suarez had returned from the pilgrimage that he was able to air his side, which appeared in the fifth part of the series.
“It was too late, the damage had been done,” a friend of Suarez said.
Columnist Ramon Tulfo also wrote negatively about Suarez. The priest later said Tulfo had personally apologized, admitted he was misinformed and sought to be prayed over.
GMA News Channel 11’s “Mareng Winnie’s Bawal ang Pasaway” aired Winnie Monsod’s interview with Suarez for two Monday nights last month.
Monsod asked Suarez point-blank about the allegations. Suarez either explained them away or flatly denied them.
When asked if he thought SMC might have had something to do with the bad press he was getting, Suarez answered yes.

Christian forgiveness
Suarez himself had admitted that MMPF could not meet SMC’s expectation, which was to build the Marian complex as originally planned within five years. The foundation has decided to return the property.
Interviewed backstage by a TV5 crew after last Palm Sunday’s Mass, Suarez confirmed that the SMC property will indeed be returned.
The MMPF, he said, had offered SMC one of three things: Make a loan so that the MonteMaria project could proceed, build a columbarium, or just build the statue of the Virgin Mary. SC rejected all three.
The original MonteMaria project is no more. But a Marian site for prayer and healing remains on the horizon.
Suarez has denied accusations of having a lavish lifestyle, but admitted that playing tennis kept him sane, his way of warding off stress, and that he was merely invited to tennis clubs frequented by the rich.“I ask for nothing, I decline nothing,” he would always say when questioned about donations to him and to the foundation.
Suarez ministers to both the poor and the rich, to people from all walks of life who come to his healing Masses.

‘MOVING ON, REJOICING’ “The healing priest,” Fr. Fernando Suarez, delivers the homily during the Palm Sunday Mass at Meralco Theater.He spoke about moving on with service and sacrifice with rejoicing. CERES P. DOYO

He had some strong words for those who had written negatively about him without getting his side.Merely saying later that they were misinformed, which was not an excuse.He considered suing for libel those who besmirched his reputation and his ministry but Christian forgiveness prevailed over him, he said.
Moving on
Despite the negative publicity, Suarez continues to pack them in. The Meralco Theater was packed when he concelebrated Mass and delivered the homily on Palm Sunday.
The homily theme assigned to him, “Moving On,” was in sync with his personal decision to move ahead and not look back on hurts and accusations hurled at him.
Pointing to the cross as a starting point, Suarez urged the people to move on from there toward sacrifice and service. Suarez gave meaning to every letter in the word “cross.”  C, he said, stood for Jesus saying, “Come to me.”  R was not only for repentance but, more important, for rejoicing. O stood for openness to God’s message. The two S’s in the word “cross” stood for sacrifice and service, which, Suarez said, is what mission is all about.
Mission, not commission
“Mission,” he stressed, “not asking for commission.”
He could have been referring to the P10-billion pork barrel scam that involved lawmakers and government officials who allegedly channeled public funds to dubious organizations and into their own bank accounts.
Those who seek commissions, Suarez said, end up in distress.
Admitting to being a fan of Pope Francis, Suarez, while delivering his homily, was holding a copy of the Pontiff’s apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)” and often quoted from it.He sometimes picked up his cell phone and read from it quotes from the Pope.
Live joyful lives
Christians must live joyful lives, he said, echoing the Pope’s exhortation. “Do not be too hard on yourself,” he said, paraphrasing Sirach 14:11: “My child, treat yourself well. Do not deprive yourself of enjoyment.”
As long as it is not sinful, Suarez added. But he also said: “Do not be afraid of the cross. Jesus is offering us joy. Then we can move on.”

Shifting to a light mood, Suarez said someone commented about his good looks. “I said it’s because I am being persecuted,” he said, laughing.Suarez’s down-home homilies and Batangueño humor resonate well with Filipinos from all walks of life.
Ministry among Mangyan
Suarez also spoke about his new mission assignment among the Mangyan in Occidental Mindoro.
Bishop Palang recently assigned him to be the apostolic vicar to the Mangyan in the diocese in addition to MMPF apostolate among the poor and the running of a formation house for seminarians on the remote island of Ilin off Occidental Mindoro.
He separated from the Canada-based Companions of the Cross and founded the Missionaries of Mary Mother of the Poor (MMMP), which has a “pious association” status for now.Bishop Palang took Suarez and his group into his diocese several years ago.Suarez described his arduous mountain trek to a Mangyan community in Lagnas town in Mindoro and the difficult life of the Mangyan.
“When I asked them what we could do together, their answer was, ‘Father, let us build a church,’” he said. Poor as the Mangyan were, they did not ask for material assistance, he added.

Road to God's heart
Suarez was one of six priests who concelebrated the midday Mass after the Palm Sunday Family Recollection organized by the Angel Mission, a group of lay people animated by Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD.
The yearly recollection for lay people is now in its 18th year, said Sytangco, one of the organizers.The other Mass celebrants aside from Orbos were SVD priests Ed Guarin and Paul Dogba; Nelson Cabanero, SMM, and Eliseo Santos, SDB.The blessing of the palms was part of the service.
Before the Mass, the audience listened to personal testimonies from lay people who had undergone physical and moral sufferings followed by the healing of body and spirit. Santos, a Salesian, delighted the audience with his talk punctuated with witty remarks and his creative use of props.
Let it go, let it be
Orbos, who writes a Sunday column in the Inquirer, kept pointing to the road to God’s heart. He sang the refrain of the hit song “Let It Go” that segued into the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” After the Mass, Suarez did a general healing prayer for those with physical, mental and spiritual ailments. He did not go down to the audience to touch the sick. Instead, a priest holding a monstrance with the consecrated host went around for eucharistic healing. #

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Her womb and other Lenten thoughts

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/ by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Former President Joseph Estrada, accused of plunder, had a problem with his knees and he was allowed to fly to Hong Kong for surgery. There were concerns about his not returning and facing the charges against him. But he did return, resumed house arrest in his Tanay rest house, was convicted, and was quickly pardoned by his successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Toward the end of her 10-year presidency, Arroyo developed a life-threatening, potentially disabling condition involving her cervical spine. Also accused of plunder and under hospital arrest, she had undergone very delicate operations. Arroyo’s attempt to leave the country while in a wheelchair was dramatically foiled at the airport by the Department of Justice. Now a congresswoman representing the second district of Pampanga, she is detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.

In contrast to these two former presidents who bared their infirmities in order to receive humanitarian treatment, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos kept his health issues under wraps. There was no danger of flight on his part as he clung tight to this woebegone country. In fact, being flown out of the country he had ruled with an iron first for almost two decades and forced into exile were not severe enough punishments.

When Marcos was rumored to be ailing toward the end of his rule, he was never seen in a wheelchair. Only after he was deposed through people power were the rumors confirmed. The medical contraptions found in Malacañang confirmed the reports about “the autumn of the patriarch.”

The wheelchair has become the subject of jokes, the symbol of flight, the refuge of the accused. Confinement in posh health centers are preferred by high-profile detainees with deep pockets. They present their medical test results in the hope that they would not be thrown into crowded, malodorous city jails and suffer the company of common criminals. As if they are not so common themselves.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
I write this in the wake of the five-part series in the Inquirer about Fr. Fernando Suarez, known as “the healing priest,” who was mercilessly bashed to smithereens by some critics while he was abroad based mainly on what they had observed or heard, and with no damning documentation presented. It was only in the last part of the series that the priest, probably jet-lagged when asked to react, was given what looked like token space to air his side.

In Suarez’s absence it was Deedee Siytangco (former spokesperson of President Cory Aquino), a member of the board of the Mary Mother of the Poor Foundation (MMPF) that Suarez founded, who had to provide some answers to questions. As someone said, “They shot him first and asked questions later.”

His supporters and those who believe in him could only sigh, “It is useless to raise a howl. The damage has been done.” In other words, those who wished to put him in a bad light have succeeded. I quote a Suarez believer: “Ang Diyos may awa. At gaba.” (God shows mercy. And also punishes.)

The series sounded like a “killing-him-softly” type. I was waiting for a bombshell that never came.

As far as I knew, the story was supposed to be about why food and beer giant San Miguel Corp. was withdrawing its donation of a 33-hectare property in Alfonso, Cavite, from the MMPF. The story segued into the personal.

(A disclosure here: Early this year the Inquirer asked me to do the Suarez-San Miguel story, but I declined. By the way, I wrote a page 1 feature article on Suarez for the Inquirer in December 2007. That was when stories about his healing gift were beginning to spread.)