No contact with priest’s kidnappers

| October 26, 2009

ZAMBOANGA CITY: Eleven days into his kidnapping, neither Irish priest Michael Sinnott nor his captors have contacted the authorities as fears for the health of the ailing Columban missionary mount.

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 Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino.

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

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

Rumors of heart attack

Police also linked Jamat Latip, a commander of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the kidnapping. The MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, has denied the accusation and has joined the search for the Wexford, Ireland 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, [Father] 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 Manila Times.

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, or South Zamboanga City or hand the priest over to the Abu Sayyaf, which previously kidnapped Catholic missionaries in the restive region.

The military, however, was less direct. Col. Romeo Brawner, Armed Forces Public Affairs Office chief, told reporters, “These are mere rumors but we are verifying them.”

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

“We have deployed many soldiers in Sultan Naga [Dimaporo] and other areas in Lanao where [Father] Sinnott has been reportedly being held. We are monitoring the situation and awaiting orders from superiors,” de Leon said in a separate interview.

Pray for him

The Missionary Society of Saint Columban 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 Father Sinnott, the Columbans in general and the members of the Philippine Region in particular, as well as Mic’s captors and those good people who are working hard for his release,” said Father Arturo Aguilar, US Region Director of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban. “Mic” is the nickname that Sinnott’s parishioners call the kidnapped priest.

“Your outpouring of prayers, support and concern continue to overwhelm me and indeed all the Columbans,” Aguilar added. “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 Father 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.”

Other priests kidnapped

The Missionary Society of Saint Columban last week appealed to US President Barack Obama to help secure the safe release of Sinnott, who is the third Irish missionary to be kidnapped in Mindanao since 1997. Father Des Hartford was held by rebels for 12 days, and in 2001, Father Rufus Hally, from Waterford, was shot dead during an attempted abduction in the volatile region.
In June 2007, gunmen also kidnapped Italian 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 also the third Italian priest kidnapped in southern Philippines the past decade.

Rogue MILF rebels kidnapped Father Luciano Benedetti, 62, in Zamboanga del Norte province in 1998 and held him 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.

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Category: Mission Trip/Missionary Security

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