11 days into Irish priest kidnapping, Columban missionaries still has no contacts with captors in the Philippines

| October 22, 2009

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 22, 2009) – Eleven days into his kidnapping, Irish missioner Michael Sinnott nor his captors have contacted Philippine authorities as fears for the health of the ailing Columban priest mounts.

Sinnott, who will turn 80 in December, was taken from his home in Pagadian City in the southern province of Zamboanga del Sur on October 11 by six gunmen. And he is believed being held hostage in the Muslim autonomous province of Lanao del Norte, said regional military chief, Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino.

He said the ailing Sinnott, who had several heart bypass surgeries in the past, needs his medication. He previously said that Sinnott’s captors had contacted The Missionary Society of St. Columban in Mindanao, but this was denied by Sinnott’s superiors.

The motive of the kidnapping is still unknown and no group has claimed responsibility for it. But Dolorfino has tagged a notorious pirate leader Guingona Samal as behind the priest’s kidnapping.

Police also linked Jamat Latip, a commander of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the kidnapping. The MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, has denied the accusation and has joined the search for the Wexford native, who was on Thursday reported to have died from a heart attack.

Dolorfino said there has been no confirmation about the reports and that the priest is still alive and being held in the hinterlands of Sultan Naga Dimaporo, a municipality of Lanao del Norte and stronghold of Moro rebels.

“As far as we know, Sinnott is still alive and being held hostage in Sultan Naga Dimaporo. We have no reports that the priest had died from a heart attack,” he told the regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

Dolorfino last week ordered troops to box the area where Sinnott is being held to prevent the kidnappers from spiriting him out to Basilan Island, south Zamboanga City or hand the priest over to the Abu Sayyaf, which had previously kidnapped Catholic missionaries in the restive region.

Colonel Benito de Leon, commander of army forces in Lanao del Norte, said they have no reports that Sinnott had died in captivity, but is monitoring the area where the foreigner is being held.

“We have deployed many soldiers in Sultan Naga (Dimaporo) and other areas in Lanao where Sinnott has been reportedly being held. We are monitoring the situation and awaiting orders from superiors,” De Leon said.

The Missionary Society of St. Columban also said it has no reports about Sinnott and called on the public to pray for the safety of the elderly priest.

“As of this writing, we have no developments to report. The internet is rife with speculation and, to a large extent, inaccuracies. Please be assured that when there is news of a reliable nature, you will hear it through us. In the meantime, please continue to hold prayerful vigil in your hearts for Fr. Sinnott, the Columbans in general and the members of the Philippine Region in particular, as well as Mick's captors and those good people who are working hard for his release,” said Fr Arturo Aguilar, US Region Director of The Missionary Society of St. Columban.

“Your outpouring of prayers, support and concern continue to overwhelm me and indeed all the Columbans. We are more grateful than I can adequately express for your solidarity at this difficult time. I am certain your prayerful support is making its way to Fr. Sinnott in his suffering, giving him courage, hope and forbearance. Let us pray it is also making its way to the hearts of his abductors, filling them with compassion and the courage to do what is right,” he said.

The Missionary Society of St. Columban has last week appealed to US President Barack Obama to help secure the safe release of Sinnott, who is the third Irish missioner to be kidnapped in Mindanao since 1997.

Fr Des Hartford was held by rebels for 12 days, and in 2001, Fr Rufus Hally, a missioner from Waterford, was shot dead during an attempted abduction in the volatile region.

In June 2007, gunmen also kidnapped an Italian missioner Giancarlo Bossi, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, in Payao town in Zamboanga del Sur province.

Bossi, then 57, was freed more than a month later after private negotiators paid a huge ransom. Bossi’s kidnappers had demanded P50 million for his safe release.

Philippine authorities said Bossi was kidnapped while celebrating mass in the village of Bulawan by brothers Akiddin and Wanning Abdusallam, both rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf.

Bossi was the third Italian priest kidnapped in southern Philippines decade.

Rogue MILF rebels kidnapped Fr Luciano Benedetti, 62, in Zamboanga del Norte province in 1998 and held for nearly 10 weeks until he was freed in exchange for a huge government ransom.

And in 2001, renegade MILF rebels and members of the bandit group called Pentagon Gang also snatched Fr Giuseppe Pierantoni as the 51-year-old from Bologna said mass in the parish church of Dimataling town in Zamboanga del Sur.

The priest was freed after six months in captivity in exchange for an unspecified ransom, but he claimed to have escaped from his kidnappers. (Mindanao Examiner)



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Category: Mission Trip/Missionary Security

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