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Review of Metro Manila Filmfest Entry: ‘Suarez, The Healing Priest’

John Arcilla

‘SUAREZ, The Healing Priest’ is the film biography of Fr. Fernando Suarez, written by Bernard Canaberal and directed by Joven Tan. The film is told in a non-linear manner. It starts with footage of the Black Nazarene procession in Quiapo showing millions of devotees while Fr. Suarez talks about the importance of faith in our lives.

Fr. Fernando Suarez and John Arcilla
Fr. Fernando Suarez and John Arcilla

Also used as a framework of the story is the work of a reporter (Marlo Mortel) who is covering the healing priest as ordered by his boss, a TV host (Alice Dixon), who later gets to interview Fr. Suarez (John Arcilla) in person on her own show.

In flashbacks, we learn that his mom (Rita Avila) named him after Fernando Poe, Jr. He’s the eldest of four kids and his dad (Richard Quan) is a tricycle driver who helps him pursue a chemical engineering degree at Adamson University. He then helps send his younger siblings to school.

His dad, who has long been urging him to get married and give him a grand child, is so disappointed when he decides to join the priesthood. He first experiences that he has healing powers as a teenager (played by Jin Macapagal) when he prayed over a crippled beggar (Gina Pareno) in Quiapo Church and the beggar is healed and gets to walk.

While he’s a young priest in Winnipeg, Canada, he is reported to have helped in bringing a dead woman back to life. The news about his powers to heal quickly spread and soon, he is being asked to give healing masses everywhere.

But his popularity does not sit well with the elders in the hierarchy of the Catholic church, notably with bishops Joonee Gamboa and Noel Trinidad who frown on his healing powers. At one point, they get so peeved with him that they order him to undergo disciplinary action and is sent away for rehabilitation. But while he was in the venue, a big storm came and tore off the roof of the building.

Next came the accusation of two teenagers that he molested them. His only ally is Bishop Antonio Palang (Dante Rivero) who supports him and believes in his honest efforts to serve the flock. As a priest, he is able to help a lot of poor folk, like villagers who get water pumps and electricity for their impoverished town with his help. He is also able to build a concrete church in a small island called Ilin in the Visayas.

Two actual people who were healed by Fr. Suarez give their own personal testimony. One was healed of liver cancer and the other was afflicted with a detached retina that needs surgery.

John Arcilla gives a persuasive portrayal as the charismatic priest. His performance here is in total contrast to his fiery acting in “Heneral Luna” where he played a volatile, temperamental character who easily explodes. Here, he underplays his scenes and is always so cool, serene, unruffled even when facing opposition from much older priests who belittle him. His best scene for us is the interview with Alice Dixon where he is able to articulate all his feelings and beliefs about his faith and his ability to heal.

Giving him splendid support are Dante Rivero as Bishop Palang, Marlo Mortel as the reporter whose ailing son the priest heals (this is one of the most touching scenes in the film), Alice as the TV host and Troy Montero as his loyal friend Fr. Jeff. But aside from those we have previously mentioned, Director Joven Tan has gathered so many other stars to play various cameo roles, like Perla Bautista as a mysterious old woman who sells candles, Andrea del Rosario as a bar girl who tries to seduce the young Fernando, Rosanna Roces and Alan Paule as the parents of one of the boys who wrongly accused Fr. Suarez, Glenda Garcia as the friend of Rita Avila, Christian Vasquez as another priest, comedians Marissa Sanchez and Rubirubi as church volunteers, Jairus Aquino as one of Fr. Suarez’ accusers, Dennis Padilla, Ahwel Paz and Simon Ibarra as villagers, and many more.

In the end, the film is actually about faith. It shows that there can be no miracles and no healing could take place if there is no faith. Fr. Suarez keeps on saying that he is not really the one who heals but God. He is just an instrument, a channel of grace.

It’s just a pity that he was taken back by the Lord at such a young age. Well, as they say, the good die young and, maybe, his mission on this earth is really over and God has another task waiting for him somewhere in the afterlife.

Publication Source :    People's Journal
Mario Bautista
Former member: Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Urian)