Freed Irish priest wants to remain in the Philippines

By Ecumenical News International
November 17, 2009

A 79-year old Irish priest, who was released unharmed one month after being kidnapped in the Philippines by a militant Islamic group, says he wants to continue serving as a missionary - writes Ray McMenamin.

The Rev Michael Sinnott, a Roman Catholic priest, was abducted outside his home in Pagadian on 11 October and was freed on 11 November 2009 by a group called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

"In the immediate future I hope to stay on here in the Philippines, to go back to do my work. I don’t know what the superiors are going to say about that, but that is my own wish," he told the Irish national broadcaster, Raidió Teilifís Éireann, on 12 November.

Sinnott, a native of the Clonard area of Wexford in Ireland, told RTE, "I think if they wanted to kidnap somebody they'd be inclined to go for a much younger man because I was not able always to hike with the speed and keep going."

The Irish Times newspaper reported that at the Church of the Assumption in Clonard, where Sinnott had grown up, a prayer shrine had been erected with his photograph. Rita Gerrard said she "just lit candles to say thank you".

The Irish priest was handed to the Philippines army by representatives of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a group fighting for independence of the southern Philippines' island of Mindanao. The front had said that it did not capture Sinnott, but said it negotiated his release from the original kidnappers, a splinter group of the rebel movement.

The kidnappers released a video of Sinnott on 31 October and had demanded a ransom of US$2 million. Upon release, Sinnott was taken to Manila airport, where he was greeted by Philippine President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin said on 11 November that no ransom was paid. "As in previous kidnaps no ransom was paid by the Irish government," he said. "To do so would only have jeopardised the vital work of aid workers and missionaries around the world," he added.

There had been concerns over the health of the priest, who is a member of the Columban order, because he had undergone major heart surgery four years ago.

"I'm a bit tired but otherwise there's not a thing wrong with me," Sinnott said at a media conference in Manila immediately following his release.

The President of Ireland Mary McAleese expressed her happiness at the release, saying, "He is clearly a man of great resilience, strength and courage and I wish him well as he seeks to recover from such a trying ordeal."

The Columban Fathers are a missionary society named for Saint Columbanus, an Irish missionary of the late 6th and early 7th centuries, who founded many monasteries across Western Europe. The best known of these is at Bobbio in Italy, where he died in November 615.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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