19 October 2009

Christians, Muslims rally for release of Fr Michael Sinnott

Christians, Muslims rally for release of kidnapped priest
October 19, 2009

Muslim men and women take part
in the prayer rally in Pagadian City

PAGADIAN CITY, Philippines (UCAN) -- About 300 Muslims and Christians called for the release of Columban Father Michael Sinnott as they marched along the route the priest's armed kidnappers are believed to have taken.

As they walked, Christians prayed the rosary and Muslims carried candles. They brandished streamers and placards, one of which read: "Return to us Father Mick SAFE and SOUND."

Some people could be seen weeping during the Oct. 18 event in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga del Sur.

The previous Sunday, armed men forced their way through the gate of St. Columban's Residence in Pagadian City, seized 79-year-old Father Sinnott and bundled him into a van. They later transferred him to a boat, which headed out to sea.

Police found the charred shell of the van in a suburb of Santa Lucia, a Zamboanga del Sur town. The provincial governor's office on Oct. 15 released sketches of three suspected kidnappers based on witnesses' accounts.

No group has yet claimed responsibility.

Mothers of children attending Hangop Kabataan (care for youth), a foundation the priest founded for children with special needs, helped organize the Oct. 18 prayer rally.

It began at 9 a.m. at the school the foundation runs, which Father Sinnott established in 1998. About 500 children, parents, Church workers, parishioners and members of interfaith and non-governmental groups gathered for the event.

Before the procession, deaf children of the school performed two dances expressing their "deep pain and sorrow" over the kidnapping of the cheerful Irish missioner they call 'Tatay' (father).

"Our children need him," one sobbing mother told UCA News as she watched.

Besides parents of the children the foundation serves, the Muslims and non-Christians who attended the rally were mostly the priest's co-members in the Interfaith Forum for Solidarity and Peace. That organization of Christians, Muslims and indigenous people with native beliefs was formed to build understanding and peace in Pagadian diocese.

Father Patrick O'Donoghue, director of Columbans in the Philippines, who was out of the city at the time of the rally, later expressed gratitude for the initiative.

Deaf pupils from a school Father Michael Sinnott established
for children with special needs appeal for his release

"I wish I could have been there," he told UCA News. Earlier, he said his congregation remains most concerned about the health of their kidnapped confrere, who had a heart bypass in 2007.

Father O'Donoghue also said there was no truth to media reports that Columbans had sought US aid for the search and rescue of Father Sinnott. He acknowledged that Columbans in the US had written to the Philippine ambassador there and to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressing concern, but said this was their own initiative.

Columbans in the Philippines were pleased with efforts by local authorities, he added.

The Crisis Management Committee for the search and rescue of Father Sinnott, headed by Governor Aurora Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur, reported on Oct. 17 that it had no leads but was focusing its operations on Zamboanga del Sur, and the adjoining provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte.

Pope Benedict XVI referred to the kidnapping when he addressed pilgrims in Rome Oct. 18, in St Peter's Square.

"On this World Mission Day, I wish to remember the men and women missionaries -- priests, religious men and women and lay volunteers -- who consecrate their total life to bringing the Gospel to the world, facing hardships and difficulties and at time even true and proper persecutions," he said.

"I am thinking, among others of Father Ruggero Ruvoletto, an (Italian) Fidei Donum priest, who was recently killed in Brazil, and of Father Michael Sinnott," who the Pope noted had been "kidnapped some days ago in the Philippines."

Father Ruvoletto, 52, was shot dead on Sept. 20 in Manaus, capital of Brazil's Amazonas state, in what appears to have been a robbery.

On Oct. 14, the bishops of Ireland called for their countryman's release in a press release ahead of World Mission Sunday.

No comments: