19 January 2010

A little incident in Ireland that gives me hope

Fr Michael Sinnott

My Columban confrere Fr Michael Sinnott arrived back in Manila last Friday. I haven't met him yet. Indeed, it's almost a year, as far as I can recall, that our paths crossed and I'm not sure if it's almost two years. When He'll go back down to Pagadian City where he was kidnapped last October I'm not sure.

Our superior in the Philippines, Fr Patrick O'Donoghue, who travelled home to Ireland in December with Fr Sinnott, told us of an incident there that touched me and gives me hope. They flew to an Ireland that was reeling from the revelations of the Murphy Report on the abuse of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin. This was only months after the Ryan Report on the abuse of children in institutions run by religious men and women, most of the children having been entrusted by the State to them.

Leinster House, Dublin

Before Christmas, Frs Sinnott and O'Donoghue visited Leinster House in Dublin where both the Dáil (parliament) and Seanad (senate) meet. They were warmly welcomed by members of all parties. It happened that a group of girls from a Catholic secondary school in Longford - where St Mel's Cathedral was burned in the early hours of Christmas Day - were on a field-trip to Leinster House. They recognised Father Sinnott, as many people on the streets of Manila had done after his release, and excitedly surrounded him, producing their mobile phones to have their photos taken with him. Father Michael, a humble man who has never sought the limelight and who turned 80 on 17 December, took all this in his stride.

A few days later this dedicated missionary priest received a package in the mail. It contained a personal card from each one of the girls he had met in Leinster House.

This little incident gives me hope. These young women were well aware of what was in the Murphy Report and of how some priests had so badly betrayed their Lord, had betrayed the children entrusted to them, and had shaken the faith and trust of so many good people, yet they clearly recognised the true face of the priesthood of Jesus Christ in this simple, prayerful man whose only desire was to return to Mindanao to serve the special children of Hangop Kabataan (Reaching out to the children), all of whom have disabilities, some being deaf, some with learning difficulties, and nearly all from a background of poverty, the mission he started when he was already moving into old age.

May the Lord continue to bless Father Michael and may the work he has begun flourish in the years ahead.

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