Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

College Park

Opening Mass Flows Into Healing Service

By SUZANNE HAUGH, Special To The Bulletin | Published June 21, 2007

Joanne Clark, a parishioner from St. Peter the Rock Church, was not alone in admitting that she had never been to a healing service before attending the June 8 Mass and healing service celebrated by Father Fernando Suarez, CC.

“I have to say that when I walked into the hall and heard the group singing, I felt all the energy and it moved me to tears.”

Like Clark, over 2,000 people attended the event, which was part of the 12th annual Eucharistic Congress held at the Georgia International Convention Center.

“He was humble,” Clark said of Father Suarez. “I never realized that we had healers in the Catholic Church. I guess I kind of knew, but mostly I associated them with the people you see on television. This was my first time ever and it was awesome.”

In 1997 Father Suarez joined the Companions of the Cross religious community of priests and seminarians, founded by Father Robert Bedard in 1985 in Ottawa, Canada. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2002 and also serves Mary Mother of the Poor, a foundation he started to assist the poor and disadvantaged in the Philippines and beyond.

Using humor, the Filipino priest shared the story of his first healing of a crippled beggar woman whom he took pity on and prayed with after attending Mass when he was a college student. He closed his eyes, made the Sign of the Cross and prayed “an Our Father, Hail Mary and a Glory Be.”

“When I opened my eyes she was standing, walking. My first reaction was that I got scared. I ran home and told my mom that if a woman comes here and says she’s been healed, she’s crazy,” recalled Father Suarez with a laugh.

As a young man he feared “being branded a faith healer.” It took many years until he finally heard God telling him, “Fernando, the gift of healing is not for you; it’s for the people. … I told God that now I am open so use me.”

He eventually left a career as a chemical engineer to study for the priesthood.

“… after I started celebrating the Mass, the blind could see, the deaf could hear, but I knew in my heart, I knew in my mind, that it was not me healing them; it was Jesus in the Eucharist. God just honors my requests. … God wants us to realize, brothers and sisters, that Our Lord Jesus Christ also heals in the Catholic Church.”

Father Suarez began a healing ministry in 2003 that uses his spiritual gifts of healing at healing Masses, retreats and missions held around the world. He only prays with people following the celebration of Mass, as he understands that it is the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist who heals the sick and broken-hearted.

In his homily he also alluded to St. Thomas Aquinas who proclaimed “that the most powerful presence of Jesus is in the Eucharist. The late, great John Paul II, in Ecclesia Eucharistia, said that it is time to discover the power of the Eucharist.”

Then Father Suarez offered up how we are to discover this power.

“We need to pray. While we’re here we need to focus and listen to God, who is able to give us anything we need.”

After praying, people need to be open to God’s mercy and grace and to remove anything negative or “not of God,” he continued.

“What God tells you to forgive, forgive. What God tells you to love, love. What God tells you to let go, let go.”

It is also important to worship God through the Mass and in other ways, such as through eucharistic adoration.

“We need to learn to worship. God does not need worship, but we need to worship to give ourselves the opportunity to be fully alive human beings. …We only live fully if we’re connected to the Lord.”

He spoke of the vibrancy of the Atlanta Archdiocese, which promotes eucharistic adoration. “There are so many vocations and young people whom I believe love the truth, who know the truth, for the truth will set you free.”

Beyond worship, Father Suarez shared with the crowd the importance of encountering God.

“Because of the eucharistic celebration, we have the opportunity to have a personal encounter with God. … There are so many who suffer with loneliness and depression. Please do not be depressed, do not be sad. He will heal you the way you want. … He’s all in all because he’s God. Amen!”

Father Suarez ended his homily by saying that people need also to “rely on God completely—give all to him.”

“There is power. In the very words of John Paul II, there is power in the eucharistic celebration.”

Father Suarez offered a prayer of general healing for those present and continued with the Mass.

Father Jeff Shannon, CC, who assists Father Suarez in his healing ministry, instructed the thousands gathered on the format of the healing service and lessened the fears of some by describing what is called “resting in the Holy Spirit … as an experience of peace, joy, the presence of God. Be open; don’t resist.”

He served as the emcee for the remainder of the evening, asking those who experienced healing to come forward and share their stories.

Before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, people formed two lines down the center aisle standing shoulder to shoulder as Father Suarez walked up and down laying his hands on each person while praying, as he did for the first healing he experienced years ago, an Our Father, Hail Mary and the Glory Be.

Not long after he began, Sophia shared that her back pain “was much better,” Marie could see Father Shannon’s face and others like Wayne, who suffered from a sciatic nerve problem, were in no pain, “Praise the Lord!”

Ruffina, a slender Asian woman from St. Patrick’s Church in Norcross, recalled standing in line not planning on saying anything but praying as Father Suarez was praying, an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.

“He asked me what I wanted. I didn’t know what to say but answered that I wanted healing physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. Then he asked me how my neck was. I felt OK.”

The young woman had experienced neck pain resulting from a car accident, but the pain was gone. She had told the crowd, “It’s not me; it’s all (Jesus).”

Father Suarez was not alone in his marathon of healing. Trying to keep pace with him were yellow-shirted ushers who served as “catchers” behind those who rested in the Holy Spirit.

Joe Krygiel, coordinator of the ushers for the congress and director of Catholic Charities for the Atlanta Archdiocese, attested to the physicality of being a catcher and estimated that he walked about four miles during the healing service alone. He and the other ushers spent about two hours also gently placing many of those resting in the Spirit on the floor.

“Doing the healing Mass is special to me because it shows that the Catholic Church offers hope and healing to the people who come to us,” Krygiel said.

“People who attended the healing Mass have found Jesus, through the Eucharist, healing them, hopefully physically if not spiritually. For me walking during the healing process back and forth as Father laid hands edified my faith in the mercy and generosity of God. It showed the faith people have to reach out and trust like that.”

Thirteen-year-old Taylor Conigland from St. Anthony’s Church in Atlanta wasn’t praying for anything in particular, she said, when she experienced resting in the Holy Spirit. “At first I was scared. I didn’t know what happened.”

She was helped to her feet by her mother, Rosarita Burden-Conigland, and her father, Keenan S. Conigland, who is Baptist and also shares his faith tradition with his daughter. “We just love Jesus; that’s it,” Rosarita said of their approach to sharing their faith with Taylor.

A few people mingled shortly after the event ended at 10:30 p.m. While not Catholic, Judy Hildebrand of Dallas attended the event with her friend Nancy. She has been fighting cancer in many parts of her body for 10 years, including battling Stage 4 breast cancer.

“I was really asking for healing, and I feel better already,” she said, adding that she faced surgery on her leg the following week.

“God has been good to me already. I’ve experienced spiritual healing—that’s the highest healing, I feel. Because of that healing I have a better ability to cope with what comes my way. I know his hand is on me.”

Clark, of St. Peter the Rock Church, can now give witness to her experience at the Mass and healing service, which she hopes to attend next year.

“It does something to the inside; I can’t explain it. … It was just awesome. It was everything I thought it might be.”