(Written by Willy E. Arcilla)
February 11 is a date which the Roman Catholic Church commemorates as the World Day of the Sick in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes to whom is attributed countless miraculous cures that have occurred in Lourdes, located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, southwestern France, a world-renowned pilgrimage site of the Marian apparitions to the 14-year old St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. Her message then, as in all past apparitions across the world remains consistent and universal, timeless and enduring -- a call for the conversion of sinners; prayer and sacrifice of the faithful; and charity for the poor and sick.
On the same date this year, February 11, 2013, 155 years after the first apparition in Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin Mary appears to have made her presence felt once more and her message revived, but not in Europe, rather, right here on Philippine soil – on Iling, an impoverished island off the southwestern coast of Mindoro, an hour by pumpboat from San Jose, the capital of Occidental Mindoro.
February 11, 2013 marked the inauguration of Santisima Trinidad, a new church built on the island for the Missionaries of Mary, Mother of the Poor (MMMP), with the help of private donors led by the DMCI group of companies. The MMMP was founded in 2011 by Fr. Fernando Suarez, the world-renowned and much beloved healing priest, who was incardinated in Mindoro under Bishop Antonio F. Palang, SVD.
Digital photographs taken by different people using different cameras from different angles have shown an image resembling the Blessed Virgin Mary near an icon of Jesus Christ on the center of the retablo during the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The images of the woman appear to be first standing in homage to her son, Jesus Christ, then at one point, the same image appears to be kneeling at the feet of Jesus, and judging from the different positions, moving across the icon from right to left.
The image can now be seen under the icon of Christ while Fr. Suarez is walking
to the left of the altar.
Another camera shows a blurry yet distinct image of the same woman
on the left side of the icon.
An Island of Miracles
Whether one believes or not there was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary captured on digital technology, it was clear and undeniable that Santisima Trinidad on Iling Island is a site of numerous and various miracles, starting with the most important of all miracles – the miracle of the Holy Eucharist during the Holy Mass; the miracles of healing after the Holy Mass; the miracles of conversion among the pilgrims because in the words of Fr. Suarez, “Healing is not an end in itself, for what good is healing if it does not lead to conversion”; the miracle of the Church that was built within an incredible span of only 7 months, 7 weeks and 7 days; the miracles of vocations to the priesthood as the Missionaries of Mary, Mother of the Poor now counts thirty (30) seminarians joining the order in less than two (2) years; and even the “temporal” miracles experienced by poor island natives thanks to the generosity of donors – lighting at night from solar panels and fresh water from an underground spring; medical missions and feeding programs; educational scholarships and livelihood opportunities; better shelter and pastoral care – all made possible by benefactors who have responded to the call for charity for the poor and sick.
Economy of Salvation
While the name of the new order, Missionaries of Mary, Mother of the Poor implies it is dedicated to the less fortunate in society, it also attracts many well-to-do and generous donors who help sustain the healing ministry of Fr. Fernando Suarez; support the seminarians and finance all the works of charity.
Consistent with the call by Blessed Pope John Paul II for the New Evangelization among baptized non-believers; in consonance with the Year of the Faith proclaimed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and even in line with the exhortation of the new Pope Francis to “go back to our roots”; “care for the poor and the environment”; and “go to the people”; the MMMP, led by its founder Fr. Fernando Suarez, who chose “the parish no priest wanted to go” is offering another instrument of God and channel of grace – where the rich help the poor and the poor help themselves in an “Economy of Salvation” that we may “Help Our Poor and Save Our Rich”, as the two (2) gospel passages on the official letterhead of MMMP read:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you!” (Matthew 6:33)
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full!” (John 10:10)
“Heal my people.”
February 11 was also the day when Pope Benedict XVI announced he will abdicate from the Chair of Peter due to failing health, and on this same day, the Blessed Virgin Mary seems to remind us in Iling, “I am here. Do not fear.” It must also be a way for the Blessed Virgin Mary to express her gratitude to Fr. Fernando Suarez for generously responding to her invitation against his own desires, when she appeared to him, “Heal my people” in the same way she responded to the Angel Gabriel with her “Fiat!”
“Do not prevent someone from doing good.”
Ironically, even after responding to Mary’s call and helping heal countless individuals from around the world as a faithful instrument, Fr. Fernando Suarez, a lowly and humble, originally shy and silent lad from Butong, Batangas, has also become the object of criticism. Perhaps Church leaders can take heed of the words of wisdom from one of their brothers in the episcopate – “Do not prevent someone from doing good” so that this Year of Faith can also become a Year of Healing – not just for the sick but also for the healthy; not just for the poor but also for the wealthy; not just for the lay but also for the clergy.
Written by Willy E. Arcilla. Published with the permission of the author.