15 November 2009

Fr Michael Sinnott: Days of Freedom

Fr Michael Sinnott, 13 November, Manila

15 November 2009, 9:30pm Philippine time, 1:30pm GMT
Fr Patrick O’Donoghue, Columban Superior, Philippines

I am writing this on Sunday night in the Columban house in Batang, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental. I arrived here at 5.15pm today to attend the blessing tomorrow of the newly refurbished house and the new conference hall. Fr Brian Gore is to be thanked for the excellent job he has done; the whole property is looking great. It is encouraging to see this ‘new shoot’ of Columban Mission beginning to sprout here in Negros, where we have a long and proud tradition (since 1950). There is a wonderful statue of St Columban right at the entrance and the property will now be called ‘San Columbano’. The Bishop of Kabankalan, Msgr Patricio Buzon SDB, will bless the property tomorrow at 11am. May God continue to grant us many blessings here in Batang and throughout the island of Negros.

San Columbano, Batang, new building under construction

Fr Mick Sinnott continues to amaze us. He is looking better every day and is in good form despite the fact that he has hardly rested since his release. He had no sleep on Wednesday night as he travelled to freedom (which included a long sea journey). He spent the early hours of Thursday morning in Zamboanga City. He was then flown to Manila by government plane arriving Manila at 10.30am where he was met by President Arroyo, the Irish Ambassador Mr Richard O’Brien and Fr Mick McGuire (Columban Vice Director in the Philippines) and where he gave a twenty-minute press conference that impressed everyone. He then returned to Singalong (the Columban HQ in Manila is in Singalong St) in a presidential convoy! When I caught up with him at about 3.30pm he was having his hair cut and beard shaved off! And then the media began to arrive! RTÉ (Irish national radio and TV) sent their correspondent, Margaret Ward, from Beijing and she did a long interview with Father Mick and others. The Irish Times correspondent, Clifford Coonan, also arrived from Beijing. The CBCP (Catholic Bishops’ conference of the Philippines) press people also came as did GMA 7 TV ( a national network based in Manila). And he handled it all like a pro! There were also telephone interviews with a number of radio stations.

Friday was even worse in terms of the media coming to Singalong and the phones ringing nonstop. But Father Mick never once objected. Even when I tried to curtail some, he always insisted he was willing to talk to whoever was looking for him. In between all of this he had time to talk to Mícheál Martin, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs. He was on phone interviews up till 9pm. One of the things that I am again aware of is the impact that Father Mick has on many of those who come to interview him. His authenticity is powerful.

San Columbano, Batang, St Columban with some friends, including Columban seminarians from Fiji and the Philippines after their recent retreat.

Saturday was a little less frenetic. And he managed to go to get his eyes checked out. His eye-glasses were lost in an attempt we had made to get them to him. It was his first trip out of the house since he had returned. He soon realised that he is now ‘recognised’ by many people. Those in the doctor’s office immediately recognised him and told him how they had been praying for him. When he came out from the doctor a group of people, who had heard that he was there, came to greet him and tell him that they, too, had been praying for him. There were some more interviews and then we went for the Thanksgiving Mass in Malate Church (where the Columbans have been working since 1929 – our first mission in the Philippines) at 6pm. This was the ‘Vesperas’ (eve) of the Fiesta which is today. It was the last night of the novena to Our Lady of Good Remedy, to whom we had been praying for his release. This needs to be written up separately and I may try to do it. The church was packed to capacity. The Irish Ambassador, Richard O’Brien, the Honorary Consul General Noreen Trota, and other guests were in the congregation. I was the principal celebrant (something that had been long scheduled). I must say that it was a beautiful celebration with the choir at its best. Father Mick spoke after the Post-Communion Prayer. You could hear a pin drop as people listened intently to him. He spoke simply but powerfully about his experience and about the love of God, urging us twice to allow God to love us. (I think his words were recorded, and if so, I will get a copy for you.) He got a standing ovation when he finished – and you could feel the genuine joy and delight of people. It really was wonderful. Afterwards we all enjoyed a lovely meal in Malate. It was Columban Family – Sisters, Lay Missionaries, students and priests – and a few guests. As someone remarked afterwards, it was one of the most joyful celebrations we have ever had. We got back to Singalong at about 9.40pm but Father Mick’s Day was not yet over. The secretary to the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese , had phoned twice while we were at Malate. She phoned again just before 10pm and Father Mick spoke with the President for about 10 minutes. She told him that she hopes to see him at Áras an Uachtaráin, (the Malacañang of Ireland), very soon!!! (The Irish president is a ceremonial head of state elected directly by the people. During her schooldays President McAleese used to sell Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Ireland and Britain).

This morning Father Mick was looking very much himself. I won’t say how I was looking! I am working on a more detailed account of these days and will send them to you when ready.

For now, we continue to give thanks to God that, despite living in really basic conditions, Father Mick suffered no ill health, no infections, no aches or pains. That in itself is a miracle. Let us thank our Blessed Mother also for his safe return, but let us continue to ask her to secure the release of all those who are still in their captivity, wherever they may be.

President McAleese with Sharon Commins, kidnapped in Sudan on 3 July and released on 18 October.

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