SHIFTING to an online platform may have led the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) to introduce a greater variety of films for this year’s pandemic edition. While the requisite family films such as Magic Kingdom and Mang Kepweng: Ang Lihim ng Bandanang Itim are still part of the programming, it has been seven years since the festival last included a biopic on a religious figure, 2013’s Pedro Calungsod: Batang Martir. While Pedro Calungsod tells the life (or what little is known about the life) of the second Filipino saint who lived in the 1600s, Joven Tan’s Father Suarez: Healing Priest explored the life of a modern-day subject, the so-called healing priest, Father Fernando Suarez.
“I have heard a lot of things about Father Suarez from way back, so when I got to read the script, I was intrigued and wanted to work on this material. During our meets, prior and during the filming I remember him (Fr. Suarez) to be kind, straightforward, and sincere,” Joven Tan, the film’s director, said in a press release.
Fr. Suarez was a Filipino Catholic priest who performed faith healing in the Philippines and abroad. He was born in Taal, Batangas on Feb. 7, 1967. At the age of 18, Fr. Suarez is said to have discovered his healing abilities after he prayed over a paralyzed woman outside Quiapo Church after which the woman was able to walk again. He was ordained at the age of 35 in Canada, although he had been performing healing masses even before he officially became a priest. He returned to the Philippines to continue his healing mission in 2008. His healing missions attract thousands of people at a time.
Fr. Suarez died of a heart attack while playing tennis on Feb. 4 of this year, shortly before the film was finished. He was 53.
In the film, Father Suarez is played by John Arcilla who said it was easy saying “yes” to the role — although he had misgivings later on because of the controversies that surrounded Fr. Suarez, including accusations of corruption and sexual molestation which will be tackled in the film. Mr. Arcilla said that he didn’t want to be “a mouthpiece to justify some people’s issues,” according to the release. But after meeting Fr. Suarez, Mr. Arcilla was won over by his sincerity and because he did not try to defend himself. The priest was exonerated by the Holy Office at the Vatican in January.
Fr. Suarez, Mr. Arcilla noted, was also a fan of Heneral Luna (2015) where Mr. Arcilla played the title role. “[Fr. Suarez] personally handpicked me to play the role [in his biopic],” Mr. Arcilla said.
“While filming, I decided not [to] mimic or copy him,” said the actor. “I just took his essence and some of his demeanor but what I totally embraced was his unwavering trust in the Almighty.”
The film, which opens on Dec. 25, is something people should watch because “it pays to be reminded that we could always turn to our faith and ask guidance from our Creator,” said Mr. Tan.
Father Suarez: Healing Priest is part of this year’s MMFF slate. Tickets are now available via Upstream.ph. The Metro Manila Film Festival runs from Dec. 25 to Jan. 7 online. — Zsarlene B. Chua