17 October 2009

Friday night update on kidnapped Fr Michael Sinnott

Below is a slightly edited version of the email that Fr Patrick O'Donoghue, Columban superior in the Philippines, sent by email last night at 11:30 Philippines time.

Dear Friends,

It is Friday evening here and I wish I had really good news to share with you. However, little has changed in the sense of any concrete news as to Father Mick's whereabouts or his condition. No one has made contact with us and information has continued to come in in various ways, some of it contradictory. There are those who would maintain that he is somewhere in Lanao and they may be correct. Others are not convinced and they too have their reasoning. I have been told by a number of people with some experience in this, that those holding Father Mick may not make contact with anyone for a week or even ten days.

In the midst of all this, we can only hope and pray that Father Mick is not suffering too much, at least physically. The waiting and the not knowing is not easy for any of us. I try to concentrate on what is being done and not on thinking what might be.

I met with Bishop Cabajar (of Pagadian) twice today - at 7am and again after lunch. We discussed the report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer which we both felt was very disturbing particularly after I had contacted them yesterday afternoon to point out the inaccuracies. This morning's printed edition had even more explicit inaccuracies. We discussed other matters that were to be brought up at the TFSinnott which was meeting at 3pm.

I had a call from Vatican Radio before lunch and I gave them a short interview about the situation. They also asked me to say something about Mission Sunday in relation to Father Mick's abduction. I am sorry that they had not given me some notice as I would have simply said that all one needed to do was look at his life and you saw Mission in Action. As it was I said something about the risks that are all part of the commitment to mission.

The early afternoon was given over to drafting a Press Statement to state that there had been no contact between us and those holding Father Mick. I will attach a copy. (Editor: I will post this separately). I sent the draft to some others by email and Fr Sean Martin who had arrived here also helped. The final statement was completed before 5pm and sent to a number of media outlets. I am told it was given to Reuters. I also sent a copy to Fr Donal Hogan (Columban superior in Ireland who has spent many years in the Philippines) as the Irish Times also ran the story from the Inquirer. Father Donal was on the phone while I was in the process of drafting the statement and he told me that some of Father Mick's family will be on the Late Late Show in Ireland tonight Friday. Father Donal himself will be in the audience. (The Late, Late Show is an enormously popular live talk-show on Irish TV). It is also heartening to know that Father Mick will feature as part of Mission Sunday.

RPN9 phoned me to ask about my contact with the 'captors'. I spoke of my frustration at these kinds of reports and again tried to use the opportunity to keep the focus on Father Mick and his medical condition. This is what most people are finding so objectionable and might just be the pressure point on those who can put pressure on those holding him to do the 'honourable thing' and free him.

Fr Tommy Murphy (Columban Superior General, based in Hong Kong) arrived with Fr Sean Martin for a visit in mid-afternoon. He had flown in to Manila last night and flew to Ozamiz this morning. Father Tommy met with the Irish Ambassador, Mr Richard O'Brien, in the Columban house in Singalong St before he left for the airport and he said that it was a very good meeting. Mr. O'Brien briefed him and Fr Mick McGuire (Columban Vice-Superior in the Philippines) on all the efforts being made at the diplomatic level to ensure Father Mick's early and safe release. Father Tommy shared this with me also. It is good to know that there are on-going diplomatic contacts.

There was a meeting set up here in the house of some people involved in the Peace Initiative and the Interfaith Forum. Father Tommy, Father Sean, Auring Luceño (a Columban lay missionary from Pagadian) and myself met with them. Father Tommy thanked them all for their efforts to get Father Mick freed - they have all been using their own resources to help. There was very free sharing which was inspiring and encouraging. Father Tommy remarked on the depth of feeling in the group for Father Mick, who has been a member for a long time. They are very affected by his abduction. Sultan Maguid was present and he expressed his sorrow but also his hope that the Forum would continue and strengthen.

I am planning to fly to Cebu tomorrow afternoon if nothing breaks here. Fr Pat Baker has been there since Tuesday readying the things that will be sold off tomorrow and Sunday. There are a number of people helping him. My thanks to Father Pat and all who are helping. (The Columbans have sold their house in Cebu and will be vacating it over the weekend). I will return to Pagadian on Sunday. And then I will assess what to do.

There may not be an update tomorrow night or if there is it may be brief! I am attaching another statement that has come in from Peace Advocates Zamboanga.

Thanks again for the continuing support and prayers. Fr Dick Pankratz phoned today (from Cagayan de Oro) to say that Father Mick will feature in prayers for Mission Sunday throughout the archdiocese and that streamers will also be put up asking for his speedy release. This kind of solidarity is invaluable.

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An Appeal for the Freedom of Fr. Michael Sinnott
(A statement by Peace Advocates Zamboanga.)

THE kidnapping of Irish priest Fr. Michael Sinnott last Sunday, October 11, in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur is yet another serious assault against our hallowed belief in the sacredness of every human life, against the democratic order that enables us to live in dignity, security and peace as a community and society of God-fearing and law-abiding citizens.

The old age of 79 year-old Fr. Sinnott and the fact that he devoted much of his life to serve the poor and marginalized people of Mindanao, especially those in our home region, including indigenous and peoples of other religious faiths, make this kidnapping extraordinarily cruel and saddening. The value of Fr. Sinnott’s life and work is beyond any ransom price. For its despicable and unspeakable evil and barbarity do we strongly condemn this kidnapping of a holy man.

We, therefore, urge and appeal to our civilian, police and military authorities to exercise their duty and exert all efforts for the early and safe freedom of Fr. Sinnott. We propose that appropriate rewards be given to any person/s that will promptly help bring this about.
We appeal to our fellow citizens, including civil society peace and community development workers, to remain true and strong in the face of this assault against our shared principles and beliefs. We are again challenged by this crime.

We commiserate with the fellow priests in the Missionary Society of St. Columban of Fr. Sinnott in the anguish that his kidnapping may cause them, as they cause in us as well. We are confident – as we stand in solidarity with the Columban community in the Philippines – that no kidnapping, no act of violence against missionaries will ever, as it never did in the past, stop them in their mission to uplift peoples through the power of their faith, benefits of education, and emancipation through social justice and freedom. Indeed, the always divine yet often difficult and dangerous pursuit of this noble, life-giving mission holds the essence of true martyrdom, which calls all to work in the service of others no matter the personal cost.

We appeal to people to pray for Fr. Sinnott, for God to strengthen and preserve him in this his hour of great trial. And yes, let us most of all pray for the captors, that God may overflow their hearts with His miracle of repentance, mercy and grace. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – (Mark 11:24).

Zamboanga City, October 14, 2009.

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A Press Release by the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society
A Call for the Immediate Unconditional Release of Fr. Michael Sinnot

The abduction of Fr. Michael Sinnot in Pagadian City on October 11, 2009 is an act of utter savagery, which is diametrically opposed to the tenets of Islam and Christianity. This has no place under a democratic and civilized society.

As we join in the vehement condemnation of Fr. Sinnot’s abduction in the highest terms, we are very much saddened by the fact that, albeit huge funds appropriated by Congress for security, intelligence and national defense, the government has remained inefficient to protect and preserve the safety of the citizenry, whether Muslim or Christian. The abduction of Fr. Sinnot is a classic example of this, as it had happened at the very heart of the city where law enforcers have their routine patrols.

Fr. Michael Sinnot is an Irish priest who is a member of the Missionaries of St. Columban. He had been in the Philippines since the 1980s, serving as missionary. Prior to his abduction he founded and even served as coordinator of the Hangop Kabataan in 2008, a dwelling place for both Muslim and Christian children who need special attention; children with physically and mentally challenged like blind and deaf.

Despite his old age of 79 and his problematic condition, Fr. Sinnot’s friends and peers best know him for being energetic and consistently attentive in all of his undertakings. He is also admired by them for being humble, soft spoken, approachable, kind and caring like a father or a brother.
As we call on the perpetrators for the immediate-unconditional release of Fr. Michael Sinnot, we caution the military and the Philippine National Police to be professional in carrying out their rescue operations to spare the civilian from harm and no “white wash” be involved in the subsequent investigations to identify and apprehend the real perpetrators of this heinous crime. We urge also both the leaders of the Moro and Non-Moro civil society organizations to unite and share their part in the collective work for the immediate and unconditional release of Fr. Michael Sinnot.

Adopted and signed in Cotabato City, this 13th day of October 2009.

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