29 October 2009

29 October, Day 18: update on kidnapping of Fr Michael Sinnott

Participants from Hangop Kabataan, the school for children with disabilities founded by Fr Michael Sinnott, at the interfaith rally in Pagadian on Saturday 24 October.

29 October 2009, 11:57pm Philippine time, 3:57pm GMT
Fr Patrick O’Donoghue, Columban Superior, Philippines

The 18th day of Father Mick’s captivity has come to an end. Today is also the death anniversary of Fr John J. O’Sullivan (who spent 33 years in Burma) and Fr Jerome Sweeney (who spent 40 years between Korea and Japan). Two more Columbans dedicated to mission in oftentimes difficult conditions.

God’s faithfulness is at the heart of today’s Liturgy. ‘Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep? Arise, do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face from us and forget our oppression and misery?’ (Psalm 44) It is easy to identify with this lament these days. ‘It is already too long, Father’ (The words of one of Father Mick’s friends that I quoted last night.) God’s continued ‘silence’ or ‘inaction’ in the face of a crescendo of prayer, especially those of the ‘little ones’, challenges our confidence. But it does not submerge it. From the depths of desolation God faithfulness still inspires trust, hope and praise. ‘Truly God is my salvation, I trust, I shall not fear. For the Lord is my strength, my song, he is my salvation’. (Isaiah 12) ‘This I know that God is on my side . . . in God I trust; I shall not fear: what can mortal man do to me?’ (Psalm 56). And in case we are in any doubt Paul emphatically assures us: ‘With God on our side, who can be against? . . . nothing can come between us and the love of Christ, even if we are worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened or even attacked’. This is confidence, a confidence born of experience of the ‘depths’. Our confidence is God’s faithfulness powerfully revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that Paul tirelessly proclaimed. When we build our house on this rock it will not collapse. And so the importance of ‘memory’ – “Do this in memory of me”. We need to nurture our ‘memory of the sacred’, of God’s constant faithfulness, in our celebration of the Eucharist and in prayer – it is this memory that will sustain us in desolation and even there draw us into trust-filled praise. It is this that is now sustaining Father Mick and us.

Deaf students from Hangop Kabataan signing at the rally

Today was another busy day. In the morning I had a long meeting which was helpful to me as I sought to clarify a number of issues. There would appear to be a glimmer of hope. The MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) last week offered to help in securing Father Mick’s release. The Crisis Management Committee (CMC), headed by the Governor, has been in communication with the MILF to try to agree on how best they can enable cooperation between them in a joint effort to free Mick. This is a complex issue. The MILF have denied from the beginning that they were in anyway involved in Father Mick’s abduction. Two weeks ago they set out to do their own ‘investigation’ and they maintain that they have identified the area where he is most likely being held. They then asked the army through the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (basically a ceasefire committee that monitors the ceasefire agreement) for permission to enter the area they have named and ‘rescue’ Father Mick. It would seem, understandably, that there is reluctance on the government side to allow the MILF forces go in on their own. The army believes that this ‘requires a political decision’ and so have passed the request to the CMC. Communication continues between both sides. We need to pray that there will be agreement soon. While I cannot say that this alone would secure Father Mick’s release, it certainly would seem to make it a greater probability.

Prayer rally in Holy Rosary Parish, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro City, with Columban Fr Dick Pankratz

There seems to have been a great response to the Special Day of Prayer and Fasting. On a humorous note, I was wondering this morning what Father Mick will say when we tell him that he was responsible for getting the whole Society (of St Columban) on its knees, and to fast into the bargain! The generous response of Columbans, and many others, is testimony to the loving concern we have for Father Mick and to our commitment to one another. Fr Pat Raleigh (Vice Director of the Columbans in Ireland) wrote to tell me about the activities in Dalgan (where Fr Sinnott taught from 1966 to 1976), including the Holy Hour last night, which some of Fr Des Hartford’s family attended. (The late Fr Desmond Hartford, then Apostolic Administrator of Marawi, was kidnapped for 12 days in 1987) To quote:

‘At such short notice we had a full Church here tonight in Dalgan. I conducted the Holy Hour. The Hartfords were present. It was almost 12 years to the day since Father Des was kidnapped. For one of the reflections I used extracts from the Far East (Columban magazine in Ireland and Britain) of his account of his kidnapping. For the final reflection I used Karleen's testimony (posted Wednesday and Thursday) and I got Angie Escarsa (a Columban lay missionary from Zambales) to read it. She really did it well. People were very pleased with the whole thing. I also used extracts from some of your reflections. The Columban Sisters in each of their houses were also in solidarity with us. Srs Marie Fay, Mary Nugent and Lucia came down with Fr Gerry French as did Lorelei Ocaya (a Columban lay missionary from Mindanao).

Prayer rally in Holy Rosary Parish

We have our own memories on these occasions. And this is only a reflection of the many gatherings for prayer that went on around the world. In Peru they were planning a ‘14 steps’ reflection using the ‘Song of the Servant’. I’m sure it went very well. If I might make a suggestion. Would it be asking too much for someone in each place to write a short account of what was done in their place and then send that to Fr Derry Healy (Director of the Columbans in Chile) so that he could post it on the web? That way we would all be encouraged by seeing how we were all united in this special day of prayer and fasting. It is just a suggestion and is not meant to put pressure.

And speaking of prayer: Here in Pagadian there are prayers being offered many times a day. The interfaith group have their own agreement. Muslims and Christians have committed to gather each day at 3pm, in their own places of worship, to pray for Father Mick’s safe release. To quote the local media: ‘Catholic parishioners in Pagadian have started to include a petition for Fr Sinnott’s safe release when they recite together the prayer to the Divine Mercy. Muslims are also doing the same when they recite the “Azhar Prayer” in their mosques.”’ Subanens also gather to perform their ‘Sangat Rituals’ each day at 6pm. There is no shortage of prayer.

Father Mick is now in his 19th night of captivity. May all this prayer help to sustain him in the memory of God’s faithfulness. May Paul’s bold assertion resound in his depths and may Jesus’ own words bring peace: ‘No one steals from my Father’.

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