11 November 2009


Fr Michael Sinnott was released this morning at 4:30 (8:30pm Wednesday GMT) in Zamboanga City in the south-east of the Philippines. Details later. But you can check the RTÉ (Irish national radio and TV) report here and the Philippine Daily Inquirer report here.

Fr Pat O'Donoghue, Regional Director of the Columbans in the Philippines

The RTÉ report has links to a clip from the TV news, where Joe Little, the religious affairs correspondent, gives some background to the release. It also has an audio interview with Fr Pat O'Donoghue, the Regional Director in the Philippines, from Pagadian City. You can access these by clicking on the video and audio icons under the headline 'Fr Michael Sinnott Freed'. (I frequently have problems with RTÉ clips. They sometimes 'hang' in the middle and keep repeating a line. I don't know if the problem is with thir technology or with my computer).

Thanks to all who have been praying for Father Michael. And thanks to all who have been involved behind the scenes in trying to obtain his release. It is a moment of great joy and relief for all of us who know and love this great priest.

Further details will be posted later.

The lobby of St Columban's, Manila

The message below is for the record, and I'm happy that it is such.

10 November 2009, 9:45pm Philippine time, 1:45pm GMT
Fr Patrick O’Donoghue, Columban Superior, Philippines

Fr Mick Sinnott is one month in captivity today. Thirty one days – a long month. It is an advent that is still not over, but we continue to await with hope his ‘joyful coming home’. Lord we ask that you do not delay any longer – bring him home to us soon. There have been difficult moments in this journey of waiting, and maybe there will be some more, but as always the psalms reassure us: ‘When I think I have lost my foothold; your mercy, Lord, holds me up. When cares increase in my heart your consolation calms my soul’ [Ps 94]. God is indeed our strength and our Columban history bears this out. Today is the death anniversary of Fr Pat Monaghan, one of the first group to go to Korea in 1933. He was interned by the Japanese during the war and then had to flee as the North Korean army invaded his parish in 1950, He returned to his parish when it was safe to do so. He died of cancer on this day in 1951. May he and St Martin of Tours, whose feast day it is today, join in the continuous intercession of this advent.

The Liturgical readings today warn and yet reassure us. ‘Power is a gift to you from the Lord, sovereignty is from the Most High’ and we are accountable for how we use whatever power we have [Wisdom 6]. If those who have power could but understand this, the Kingdom that God desires so passionately for us ‘on earth as in heaven’ would blossom. That power corrupts is all too evident as sin continues to seduce the hearts and obscure the perception of so many who ‘hold power’ in one way or another. Power seduces and destroys. The tragedy is that those who hold power cannot see this, or if they do, they ignore it in a false sense of their own invincibility. And people suffer, sometimes terribly. So, even as we see the signs of God’s kingdom breaking through these past weeks in the goodness of so many people who have given time, effort and prayer to do what is in their power for Father Mick’s safe release, we also see the signs of the anti-kingdom continuing to oppress compassion, goodness and peace. Yesterday three people were abducted from a factory on Basilan Island. More victims; more ‘commodities’.

In the face of all this we are assured that ‘God does not stand in awe of greatness, since he himself has made small and great and provides for all alike’. God’s kingdom continues to permeate the world despite the evil that seems to overwhelm us. The wheat and the darnel grow together and we are called to recognize both for what they are. It is important for us to be able to see the signs of ‘God-at-work’ in the hearts of those we meet. It helps us overcome discouragement when we feel ‘powerless’ and surrounded by corruption and evil. As today’s Gospel points out, gratitude is one of those signs of the kingdom living within us. Nine of the lepers experienced the ‘healing power’ of God as a ‘possession’ – they got what they wanted; the giver was no longer important to them, only their ‘health’. But the Samaritan saw beyond the gift to the Giver and came back. He was the one ‘saved’ – he had discovered the God who loved him and he wanted relationship with this man, not just his health. This was the real and lasting gift. He gave thanks and he found new life. It is this relationship which ‘saves’ us, also; which evokes gratitude and trust; and which, in compassion, enables us to use our power wisely and for good. Father Mick’s abduction and the thirty-one days since have revealed many in whom the kingdom is alive. With the Samaritan we give praise and thanks to God whose love will conquer all.

It has been a particularly quiet day. And for that I was grateful as it allowed me to do some other things that do require my attention. Father Mick is no longer a ‘daily item’ in the news here. Too many other things dominate, including the reaction to the beheading of Gabriel Canizares and the abduction of the three people in Basilan. Less media coverage is not a bad thing just now. The efforts that continue to find ways to obtain his release might prosper more easily with less media attention on him. That said, I am very grateful to so many media people who have been, and are, very helpful in keeping the real issue of Father Mick’s abduction before the public both here and abroad.

Mid-afternoon, however, did provide its own ‘drama’. Somebody phoned the house and told one of the staff that there had been a ‘flash report’ on GMA 7 TV saying that Father Mick had been released at 1pm. There was joyful exuberance as they rushed to the TV to see the news. They told me excitedly as they ran to the TV. One of the staff of Hangop Kabataan, who was in the house at the time, ran after them. My immediate reaction was one of relief but I must admit skepticism followed quickly as I realized that, if true, somebody would have called us in the intervening two hours. There was, of course, nothing on the TV as they frantically searched all the channels. I called someone who would know if it were true. It was another false report. The disappointment for the staff was painful to observe as they sat dejectedly, some of them with tears in the eyes. Thank God, hope had returned again by 7pm.

Father Mick may have receded from the news headlines but he is not forgotten. On the contrary. I had an email from a Filipina friend in Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland, who told me that he is remembered in their weekly Filipino Mass there. She assured me that all her Filipino friends there pray for him daily. She also stressed the importance of hope saying that nothing is impossible to God. Sr Ann Breen, a Columban Sister in Dublin, also emailed me to tell me what people who write to their mission office are saying and doing. I will quote from it:

‘Like the rest of the Columban family here, I am reading your daily bulletins and all of us here in Crumlin are in union of prayer with you and all the other many people who are literally interceding day and night for Father Mick's release. I hope it will bring a little more light and hope to you to know that there isn't a day when I don't get letters in the office from benefactors who are praying for Father Mick - just today there were two, both expressing great concern and praying for him. A few days ago an old man of ninety-seven assured me that he prays every day for his release. And these are people who have never seen him or known him. Yesterday a teacher from Donegal (who helps the Community of Hope in Ozamiz) told me her Sixth Class (Grade Six) pupils pray every day for him and are always asking for news of him. And these are only a few of the thousands all over the world. If there was ever an example of what it means to “storm heaven" surely that is it!’

Fr Pat Raleigh (Vice Director of the Columbans in Ireland) also emailed me some days ago to tell me about a prayer vigil organized by Filipinos in Dublin but I cannot locate it right now. When I do, I will give more details.

Fr Mick has now entered into his 32nd night and second month of captivity. Little did we think a month ago that a worldwide community of prayer would have formed ‘around him’. And it is still growing. May those prayers further God’s kingdom as God so desires. May they protect not only Father Mick but all captives, especially the most forgotten, this night. And as we continue our novena to you, dear Mother, Our Lady of Good Remedy, may you obtain his release soon so that we all can, like the Samaritan, rejoice in gratitude on your Feast Day.

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