27 October 2009

25-26 October, Days 14-15. Updates on kidnapping of Fr Michael Sinnott

As I was unable to post yesterday I'm including the emails of Fr Pat O'Donoghue sent on Sunday night and last night.

A resort in Pagadian City (Eriberta, 39 kms from the city)


Monday 26 October 2009, 10:41pm Philippine time, 2:41 GMT

By Fr Patrick O’Donoghue, Columban Superior in the Philippines

Six Columban students (four Filipino and two Korean) began the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola (30 Days) last night at the Jesuit Retreat House in Novaliches, Quezon City. Fr Mick Mohally and Fr Mike Riordan (from Korea) will be their directors. We wish them well and pray that this very special time will draw them closer to the Lord who calls and confirm them in their vocation to Columban Missionary Priesthood.

I offered the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit this morning. I prayed for the gifts that the Spirit gives so lavishly and so lovingly, especially wisdom, counsel, discernment and perseverance. The reading from Romans 8 (at Mass) is one of my favourite passages and I nearly always use it when preaching or directing retreats. We have not received a spirit that leads us into slavery and fear. No, the Spirit that was poured into our hearts at Baptism and continues to be poured into by love, by God’s free choice. To know who we are – God’s children – and to know the God who loves us into life and calls each of us ‘beloved child’ is freedom. If we allow that truth to arise more and more into our lives, every moment is a Spirit that breathes freedom and joy – we are children of God by grace, and in our consciousness we will find our deepest meaning and identity. And we will, in a very real sense, become ‘like Jesus’ whom we lovingly follow.

I prayed for the students – that through the 30 Days of retreat they will be drawn into the joyful depths of this truth. And they begin knowing that committing oneself to Jesus can lead anywhere as they think of Father Mick and pray for him. And I prayed for him, who has done the 30 Days twice in his life, as he now lives that last phrase of the reading: ‘sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory’. I prayed that the Spirit fill him now with the same strength that enabled Jesus to entrust himself into the Father’s way in his darkness. I prayed, too, for all those who are working for his freedom – that they make wise decisions, and for his captors – that they might open themselves to their own truth and set Father Mick free.

Wexford Harbor. Fr Sinnott is from Wexford, Ireland


Sunday 25 October 2009, 11:42pm Philippine time, 3:42pm GMT

It is exactly two weeks, almost to the minute, since Father Mick was abducted from this house. It has been a long two weeks filled with all kinds of efforts to have him released but he is facing into his 15th night of captivity. And the prayers multiply both in intensity and in number as I will outline below.

Jeremiah (first reading at Mass today) calls us to rejoice! He sees how God’s loving designs will unfold for Israel and this calls for rejoicing. ‘They had left in tears, I will comfort them as I lead them back; I will guide them to streams of water’. I did not feel too much joy, but, yes, there was encouragement in the words. God sees the joy to come. We do not and so can have difficulty entering into it now. But we are called to trust. Father Mick’s journey back home began the night he was forcibly taken from here but it is taking a long time. The waiting is getting harder. And so when Jesus (in the Gospel) asks Bartimaeus ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ I took Bartimaeus’ words and made them my own: ‘Master, let me see Father Mick again’ and soon and well. Then we will rejoice!

But as I further reflected on this I found another – and perhaps deeper – desire finding its voice within: ‘Lord, may I see you in all this’. Somehow that is the more pressing need – to continue to ‘know’, to ‘see’ Jesus in all that is happening. That makes the waiting bearable. So, Gentle God, increase my trust and let me be patient to simply see one step at a time. And as you lead Father Mick home, may you be his comfort and his joy in the waiting of that journey.

Fr Hub Hayward (a Columban from New Zealand) is three years dead today. He is another Columban who experienced waiting, having been imprisoned in Korea by the Japanese in 1942. He was later repatriated to New Zealand as part of a prisoner-exchange. Another advocate for Father Mick and for us these days.

As we face into the third week of Father Mick’s captivity, where are we? There seems to be some agreement as to where he is most likely being held. There is not the same clarity about who is holding him or what exactly their motives might be. General Serapio (who has a leading role in the task force set up to find Father Mick) is quoted in the papers today as outlining what a lot of us here recognise as a strong possibility. There are different groups involved. The group that abducted him would not be the same group that is holding him. And there may well be another group designated to negotiate his release. As of now, we have not been approached by anyone indicating that they are holding him or asking to negotiate. It is reasonable to surmise that money is (at least part of) the motive. But there could be other motives too. This is what makes it so difficult – the lack of clarity as to the motives and possible demands. This leaves everyone guessing. Maybe that is part of the strategy or maybe it is that there is disagreement among those involved. I am beginning to do here what I said I would not do – speculate – but at least it will give you an idea of the complexity.

There have been a number of ‘initiatives’ by the Church to get medicine to Father Mick. Medicines were sent to people who might have had an opportunity to pass them on somehow. This was not a response to contact being made. There was simply the hope that some people might have been able to pass it on and that somehow it would get to Father Mick. The list of his medication was also made available in many places in the hope that those holding him might have their own way of obtaining what was needed. One avenue that was used showed more promise than the others. We can only hope that it was successful. There was also an instance where we asked if we could have ‘proof’ that Mick was in ‘reasonable health’.

We did not get the response that we hoped for. That in itself means nothing. Trust is not in great supply in these matters. One of the things that I have learned is the need to verify and verify again. There are people, who may have nothing to do with his abduction or captivity, but who see an advantage and try to use it for their own gain. They are well capable of pretending that they have information that they don’t have. Their offer to help is a distraction and can obstruct. All of this is what makes it tedious, confusing and frustrating. But it underlines the importance of not speculating or immediately disclosing that there is a ‘lead’ etc. A lot of work is being done even if it sometimes does not seem that way.

I had a couple of reporters on the phone today. One asked me if I ‘approved’ of the reported ‘offer by the MILF to help the army in finding and releasing Fr Sinnott’. I smiled to myself. There had been something in the papers about it. I simply responded that I was not in a position to either approve or disapprove what the MILF chose to do; that that was for the army and the MILF to work out themselves. I added that my concern is that Father Mick would be released safely and as soon as possible and that anything that would facilitate that was welcome. But I also underlined the understanding that we (Church) have with the task force (and which was affirmed yet again recently by General Serapio) – that all peaceful means would be used and that no one’s life would be put at risk.

So that is, more or less, where things are. I remain hopeful.

I had an email the other day from Fr Pat Colgan in Fiji telling me that our students there in the Formation House are saying extra prayers and fasting for Father Mick’s freedom. He also said that prayers are being offered in many parishes in Fiji. Fr Tim Mulroy also emailed to say that all at the International Theologate in Chicago were continuing with their daily prayers. Fr Brian Gore sent word that our students, who are on retreat in Batang, are also joining in the apostolate of prayer for Father Mick’s safe release. Fr Mick Doohan has also emailed a few times letting me know of his prayerful support. Fr Barney Martin (Manila) emailed me last night to inform me that we had heard from friends in his former parish of La Villa, in Chile, who have organised a prayer group for Fr Mick’s safety and freedom. One of these friends is also using the Internet to request prayers for him. Fr Derry Healy has also informed me of his daily prayer for Fr Mick. And Fr Pat Raleigh (Ireland) tells me that Father Mick’s photo is in the main reception area of Dalgan (where Father Sinnott taught from 1966 to 1976) and also in the main Chapel.

Fr Pat Kelly, Scarboro Missionaries (Canada) communicated to say that a woman from Surigao, who had seen Father Pat saying Mass and knew he had served in the Philippines, stopped him on the streets of Toronto and asked about Father Mick! Father Pat added ‘in a real way , because of his life and dedication to the handicapped, and the world wide response to the kidnapping, maybe this is the most effective time of his missionary endeavour’.

There was another email from Regina in São Paolo, Brazil. I hope she won’t mind me using her own words. ‘The whole world seems to hold its breath. And me, too. I continue to be with you all in solidarity. There are some things that only prayer and fasting can "achieve", and that is what I do. May Father Michael be safe. At this stage, the missionaries of the Consolata Fathers, SVD (Divine Word Missionaries), Mercedarians, Scalabrinis, PIMI, Augustinians, and many lay people do pray. We have Fr. Michael´s photo on our notice board, the one where he holds up the host, consecrating it. That gesture, we now do for and with him. We believe, trust and hope with all of you’.

We can only be humbly grateful for this prayerful response to Father Mick’s situation. May we also include others who do not have the same publicity or network and who are in captivity wherever – maybe even without hope.

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