29 November 2009

Press Release from the Columban Fathers

I am a member of the Missionary Society of St Columban, known as the Columban Fathers. I am posting here the press release from the Regional Director of the Columbans in Ireland, Fr Donal Hogan, after the publication of the Dublin Report.

PRESS RELEASE FROM THE COLUMBAN FATHERS

The Missionary Society of St Columban is shamed by the findings of the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation.

Shamed because of the trauma, suffering and irreparable damage one of our members, Patrick Maguire, inflicted on his many victims.

Shamed because we failed to act appropriately or in time to prevent much of the harm done.

It is particularly chastening that, as a Society with a history of standing with the poor and the disadvantaged in many cultures, we so continuously failed vulnerable children.

We are continuing with our efforts to reach out to victims. We encourage those in need of independent and confidential advice or help to contact the Faoiseamh counselling service on their confidential help line, freefone 1800-331234 (R.O.I.) and 0800-973272 (Northern Ireland and U.K.)

The laicisation of Patrick Maguire is in process and we expect it will be completed soon.

We apologise to each and every victim as we have done in the past. Each and every one of us is deeply sorry for what he did, for the ongoing suffering he caused and for how badly we managed him.


Fr. Donal Hogan
Regional Director


26 November 2009

Deaf student graduates with a magna

Ana Kristina Arce


Today's Philipine Daily Inquirer carries the story of Ana Kristina Arce, 23, who graduated magna cum laude from the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde(DLS-CSB), with a Bachelor in Applied Deaf Studies,specializing in Multimedia Arts.

One of the things she points out is that persons who are deaf prefer to be known as 'Deaf', with a capital 'D', particularly with reference to the Deaf as a community. Indeed, she goes so far as to say that the widely used term 'hearing impaired' is offensive. She also rejects the term 'deaf-mute' as deaf persons are rarely mute, ie, voiceless.

I have highlighted parts of the article and added some [comments].

Deaf student graduates with a magna

Feisty 23-year-old proves nothing is impossible

By Tina SantosPhilippine Daily Inquirer First Posted 22:29:00 11/28/2009


MANILA, Philippines— When Vilma Macasaet-Arce was pregnant with her middle child, doctors found out that the second-time mother had contracted German measles.

“I was warned by my doctor that there was a very slim chance of giving birth to a normal child,” she said. “I was told I had an optionto abort the baby, but I decided to push through with my pregnancy andjust prayed to God to help me cope in the event that my child would have a disability.” [Abortion is illegal in the Philippines. How could Mrs Arce have been offered this 'choice'? Thank God she didn't listen to the doctors in question.]

Last month, Ana Kristina, who was born deaf, tucked in her belt a magna cum laude from the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde(DLS-CSB), where she graduated with a Bachelor in Applied Deaf Studies, specializing in Multimedia Arts.

“I wasn’t expecting to be a magna cum laude. But as I reflect on it, I believe that the Deaf can achieve things and I’m happy that I was able to prove that. I hope other Deaf students would follow suit,” said Ana, now 23, who was assisted by a coworker and a former teacher as her sign language interpreters during the interview with Inquirer.

Ana didn’t show signs of deafness until she was 18 months old.

“I caught her placing her ears near the television screen,” said Vilma, a freelance public relations consultant. “Maybe she was wondering why she was seeing something on the screen but couldn’t hear anything.”

Vilma said she initially felt devastated after doctors confirmed her greatest fear. But she said she was lucky to have been surrounded by supportive friends. “I also went to a counselor to help me cope,” she said.

Vilma said she eventually had to quit a 9 to 5 job to be with Ana most of the time.

At first, Ana seemed like a normal kid because she reacted to noises.

Once, Ana attended a friend’s birthday party and joined her fellow kids in a stop-dance contest.

“Naturally, the hearing children refrained from dancing when the music stopped, leaving Ana the only one moving,” her mother recalled.“I called her attention and that was when she stopped dancing. She did not cry or show signs that she felt awkward. She just casually walked toward me, still smiling.”

Ana admitted she used to be saddened by the communication barrier when she was younger.

“I felt stuck when I communicated with hearing people who did not know how to sign. [I share this frustration, even though I have some Sing Language. However, I find it difficult to 'read' Sign Language.] I also used to feel insecure when I couldn’t do things others could do, like sing,” she said.

Ana said she also experienced discrimination from her classmates when she was in another college where Deaf and hearing students were integrated in class.

“I found out that we (Deaf students) were excluded in meetings and group projects. I tried to show my hearing peers what I could do, but they never gave me a chance to prove myself to them,” she said.

I thought that hearing peers were understanding and had big hearts,but I was disappointed. They thought I would not be able to understand and communicate with them,” Ana added.

Vilma saw the need for her to study sign language in order to understand and communicate better with her daughter.

“Fortunately, DLS-CSB offers a sign language program, but I’m just on the first level. I’m not that good, but in our family, I’m the mos tproficient,” she said.

“My husband Ramon knows a bit (of sign language) while Ana’s two siblings, both boys, know how to sign the alphabet,” she added. “Early on, I made them understand that they had to adjust to her, although I was told by a psychologist that we have to treat Ana like any normal child because she might become spoiled, which she is, especially as far as her dad is concerned.”

Convenient tools
Ana said she is thankful that modern technology has made communication with hearing people a lot easier for the Deaf.

“For interviews, it’s essential that I have a sign language interpreter. But most of the time, I use e-mail communication, SMS ortext, or I would have pen and paper with me,” she said.

“I think the cell phone is also a most helpful and empowering tool for Deaf people,” her mom added.

While studying poses a big problem for most differently-abled people, schooling for Ana was a breeze. For this, she gave credit to her parents who have been very supportive.

Her parents enlisted her in different schools—both special and regular—to check if any of these would suit her needs.

“Like most hearing parents of Deaf children, they felt the only way for me to survive was if I learned to speak. So they enrolled me in different oral schools where I had to wear hearing aids and learn how to lip read,” said Ana, who admitted that adjusting to these schools did not come easy.

“I was always asking around, trying to look for a better school for her,” her mom added, since Ana was a very driven and passionate person.

Upon graduating from primary school, her parents enrolled her at the Philippine School for the Deaf where sign language is used as a medium of communication.

Adjustment
“Ana quickly adjusted and starteddoing well in her academics. I saw how happy she was there,” Vilmasaid. On top of receiving several awards, she emerged as the class valedictorian of her batch.

In her senior year, Ana transferred to a private school for the Deaf where she also finished with academic honors.

She said she was glad to have gone to DLS-CSB for her college education, because the school provides an environment that makes Deaf people feel welcome.

She emphasized that the DLS-CSB’s School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies or SDEAS, a department exclusively for Deaf studentswhere Filipino Sign Language is used as a medium of communication, catered well to their needs.

Ana explained that her course basically teaches one about Deaf culture—about their language, how Deaf people live, how they can face the challenges living with the greater hearing community, how they can communicate and how we can advocate.

Despite the increasing awareness on people with special needs, Ana lamented that misconceptions about the Deaf prevail.

She said the terms “hearing impaired” and “deaf-mute,” which are often used to refer to them, are offensive.

“Most people call us deaf-mute but we are not mute. We are simply deaf but can’t talk because we do not hear what other people say,” she explained, adding that they prefer to be referred to as Deaf, with the capital D.

She also appealed to TV networks to put closed captions even in one of their news programs and for other business establishments to be Deaf-friendly by understanding and addressing their needs.

Wanting to become a painter when she was kid, Ana said her inclination toward the arts led her to take up the course and pursue special training in multimedia arts.

Right after graduation, she was hired as an artist at the DLS-CSB’s marketing and communications office, of which she is the only Deaf staff member.

I have so much support from my coworkers because they are aware of the Deaf culture. It’s also proof that Deaf and hearing people can work together even though the means of communication are different,” she said.

“It’s the first time that they had a Deaf employee here and it’s a learning experience for everyone,” she added.

Ana said she could only wish that other Deaf people would be as lucky as her.

I hope parents send their deaf children to school. Even though they are deaf, they should still be educated,” Ana said. “I also wish more companies would open their doors for Deaf people and allow us to show our talents and potentials to be part of their organizations.”

According to Giselle Montero, director of the DLS-CSB SDEAS’ Center for Partnership and Development, it is the role of the school to encourage and explain to the firms that employing Deaf people is possible.

We want to prove to the companies that the Deaf can perform as well as the others; they just have to give these people the opportunity to shine,” Montero stressed. “And we also remind our students to strive hard because they will be hired not out of pity, but because they have the skills and something to share.”

Dreams
Ana said she dreams of working with the World Federation for the Deaf, a nonprofit organization, which she admires for advocating Deaf rights.

“I want to be part of the group someday because it tries to become a bridge between the Deaf community and the greater hearing population,” she explained.

Her limitations also did not stop her from pursuing her other interests, including horseback-riding.

According to her mother, Ana started attending riding classes when she was in high school.

Ana took pride in saying that her riding teacher was very proud of her equestrian skills.

“My teacher and classmates were impressed because they said I was able to follow instructions faster and better than some of my hearing classmates,” she said, her eyes glowing as she animatedly narrated her riding experiences.

An avid reader, Ana said she looks forward to be one of Inquirer’s Read-Along readers one of these days.

She said she wants to inspire other Deaf students to love and appreciate the value of reading and to make parents understand that they need to introduce and help their Deaf children appreciate the value of reading and how it can empower them in their academic needs.

Ana also received a community service award during her graduation for volunteering in various programs in and out of the school, including teaching Deaf kids in a Pasig City parish and in relief operations for Tropical Storm “Ondoy” victims.

Warm response
Ana said she was scared as she was going up the stage to deliver her speech.

“What if people won’t listen?” was the first thing that came to hermind. “I saw people talking among themselves and not paying attention.”

But when I started signing, everyone stopped talking, some curious at how I was going to do it. I even saw one boy, who was initially playing a PSP. He set aside his toy and listened to me. The teachers were crying as they listened to my speech,” she recalled.

But what touched Ana most was the response of the audience after delivering her speech. They applauded her, not by clapping their hands, but by raising their hands, with a slight shake.

“Everyone did the Deaf clap and I felt so inspired,” she said.

28 November 2009

Dublin Report on child abuse by priests

Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolas Maes, 1652-53

Last night, as I was reading the Dublin Report on child abuse by priests, Part One, Part Two, Appendices, I was listening to RTÉ Radio One from Ireland. The report was published on Thursday afternoon. On a talk show after the news two men who had been abused by one of the priests, now deceased, mentioned by name in the Report, phoned in . Neither had spoken to the commission that drew up the Report. One expressed his sense of satisfaction when he heard of the death of the priest some years ago, knowing that he was 'now in hell'. The other wished he was still alive so that he could face the consequecnes of what he had done.

One of these two men told how he would never have anything to do with the Catholic Church again nor would he allow his children to have anything to do with it.

I grew up in the Archdiocese of Dublin and had a very passing acquaintance with this particular priest around 1953 or so. He was in a neighbouring parish where an older cousin was an altar-server. This priest used to show movies in a small hall in the parish, once a week, if my memory serves me. Only boys attended. I went only once or twice with my cousin and don't recall anything untoward. I never heard my cousin, who is now dead, speak, when he was young or many years later as an adult, of anything 'strange'. But it is clear from the report that the particular priest did abuse boys. One of the callers on the programme told of the priest abusing him in his, the boy's home, in his bedroom when he was sick, while the boy's mother was downstairs, not knowing what was going on and the boy fearful of telling her.

Apart from the trauma to so many children and to their parents, there is the irreparable damage to the Church's very mission of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Church in Ireland has lost a great deal of credibility. Much of this is due to those in authority not listening to complaints or not acting on them. What is inexcusable are the instances of bishops and others in positions of authority giving good letters of recommendation to bishops in other dioceses, sometimes in another country, knowing that the priests they were recommending had records of child abuse.

Another thing I find reprehensible is the refusal of the Papal Nuncio in Ireland - not the present one - to respond to letters from the commission working on the report and the similar refusal of at least one Vatican office to do likewise. That office made the incredible complaint that these letters should have been sent through diplomatic channels. It would be a good idea if the Irish government recalled its ambassador to the Vatican, a diplomatic protest just short of breaking off relations. It might waken up some of the officials there.

In the case of a Columban priest named in the report, - he has served time in prison in both the UK and Ireland - the Vatican authorities refused to laicise him, though this was what the Society of St Columban had requested, but put him into a kind of canonical 'limbo' for nine years. He is not allowed to function as a priest but is still a member of the Society, which the Columbans intended all along.

The report notes that persons in such situations are much less of a danger to society than others who cannot be monitored in the same close way.There is great anger and utter dismay among many Irish people, including priests and religious, over what has happened and especially over the cover-ups. But one danger I see is that the much wider reality of children being abused by family members, relatives and close friends, will not be pursued as it should be.

Church leaders in Ireland and in some other countries have created a situation where Jesus himself would be under suspicion.

And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them (Mk 10:13-16).


Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (in photo above) is the first Irish bishop, as I see it, to tackle the abuse of children by priests in his jurisdiction head on. He even took on his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Desmond Connell, who didn't want to release certain documents, as he thought it would be betraying the confidentiality that he sees as necessary. The report shows Cardinal Connell as a man who gradually became aware of the horror of what had been going on and who did then try to deal with it as best he could.

The website of the Archdiocese of Dublin carries Archbishop Martin's statement after the publication of the report on Thursday. I have highlighted parts of it.


Comments of ARCHBISHOP DIARMUID MARTIN

on the occasion of the publication of the Commission of Investigation in the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin
26th November 2009

It is difficult to find words to describe how I feel today. As Archbishop of a Diocese for which I have pastoral responsibility, of my own native diocese, of the diocese for which I was ordained a priest, of a Diocese which I love and hope to serve to the best of my ability, what can I say when I have to share with you the revolting story of the sexual assault and rape of so many young children and teenagers by priests of the Archdiocese or who ministered in the diocese? No words of apology will ever be sufficient.

Can I take this opportunity to thank Judge Yvonne Murphy and her team for their diligent and professional work in producing this Report, which I expect will provide an invaluable framework for how we can better protect the children of today and the future. The Report of the Commission gives us some insight into the crimes that took place. But no report can give an indication of the suffering and trauma endured by the children, and indeed the suffering also of their family members.

Many survivors have not yet been able to speak about abuse they experienced. For them the publication of the Report must be truly traumatic. I urge them to turn to some trusted friend, to a counsellor or counselling service of their choice, to the health services, to the Gardai or if they so wish to the Diocesan Child Protection Service.

The report focuses on a representative sample of cases, but the Commission examined many other cases. The Report highlights devastating failings of the past. These failings call on all of us to scrupulously apply clear guidelines and norms. There is no room for revisionism regarding the norms and procedures in place.

The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and always was a crime canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful.

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the Report is that while Church leaders – Bishops and religious superiors - failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what has involved. Almost exclusively their primary motivation was to try to ensure that what happened to their child, or in some case to themselves, did not happen to other children. Their motivation was not about money or revenge; it was quite simply about that most basic human sense of right and wrong and that basic Christian motivation of concern for others. The survivors of abuse who courageously remained determined to have the full truth heard by all deserve our recognition and admiration.

How did those with responsibility dramatically misread the risk that a priest who had hurt one of those whom Jesus calls “the little ones” might go on to abuse another child if decisive action was not taken? Excuses, denials and minimisations were taken from priest abusers who were at the least in denial, at worst devious in multiple ways, and decisions were taken which resulted in more children being abused.

Efforts made to “protect the Church” and to “avoid scandal” have had the ironic result of bringing this horrendous scandal on the Church today.

The damage done to children abused by priests can never be undone. As Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin I offer to each and every survivor, my apology, my sorrow and my shame for what happened to them. I am aware however that no words of apology will ever be sufficient.

The fact that the abusers were priests constituted both and offence to God and affront to the priesthood. The many good priests of the Archdiocese share my sense of shame. I ask you to support and encourage us in our ministry at what is a difficult time. I know also that many others, especially parents, feel shocked and betrayed at what has been revealed. I hope that all of us - bishops, priests and lay persons - working together can rebuild trust by ensuring that day after day the Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin becomes a safer environment for children.I ask the priests of the diocese and the Parish Pastoral Councils to ensure that the wide reaching measures introduced into our parishes and organizations regarding the safeguarding of children are rigorously observed and constantly verified and updated. This scandal must be an occasion for all of us to be vigilant so that the abuse of children - wherever it takes place in our society - is addressed and the correct measures are taken promptly.

The hurt done to a child through sexual abuse is horrific. Betrayal of trust is compounded by the theft of self esteem. The horror can last a lifetime. Today, it must be unequivocally recalled that the Archdiocese of Dublin failed to recognise the theft of childhood which survivors endured and the diocese failed in its responses to them when they had the courage to come forward, compounding the damage done to their innocence.

For that no words of apology will ever be sufficient.




26 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Day to American readers!

Last photo of President Abraham Lincoln

This post is almost the same as the one I used a year ago. However I've included some information about the close ties between the Columbans and the USA. I am very grateful to my American readers and wish everyone in the USA an abundance of God's blessings on this special day, of which I have such happy memories from my years of study near New York City from 1968 till 1971 before coming to the Philippines.

Thanksgiving Day is a great family day in the USA. It's a day when Americans, second to none in hospitality in my experience, welcome strangers to their home. Americans joined the Columbans almost as soon as we were formally established in 1918. We were invited to set up our American headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, by Archbishop Jeremiah Harty, who had served as the first non-Spanish Archbishop of Manila, from 1903 to 1916, when he was transferrred to Omaha. An Irish-American, Archbishop Harty was succeeded in Manila by Irishman Archbishop Michael O'Doherty, who invited the Columbans to Manila in 1929. It's an interesting fact that the first two post-Spanish archbishops of Manila played such a vital role in the early days of the Missionary Society of St Columban.

In addition, the Catholics of the United States have been exceedingly generous in supporting the work of the Columbans down the years. We Columbans are grateful to them for that.

From the seminary in Ireland I went to study near New York City in September 1968. I was astonished at the number of invitations I received from fellow students, none of whom were priests, to join their families for Thanksgiving Day, which is observed on the fourth Thursday of November. President Lincoln's proclamation of 1863, set aside the last Thursday of the month but it is now observed on the fourth Thursday. It became a federal holiday only in 1941.

As we try to come to terms with the awful massacre in Maguindanao last Monday and other ongoing violence perhaps we can learn from the great American president. Abraham Lincoln was inspired to make his proclamation in the middle of the civil war, or War Between the States, as it is often called, that engulfed the USA from 1861 to 1863. Perhaps we too need to turn to God in thanksgiving for what God has given the Philippines and honor his bounty.

To all our readers in the USA or with American connections:

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Thanksgiving Proclamation — 1863
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the over ruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with a sure hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the holy scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people.

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven, we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown

But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

First known photo of Abraham Lincoln

25 November 2009

Day of Shame for the Philippines

Let us pray for the more than 50 people brutally massacred in Maguindanao on Monday. Politics in the Philippines are often violent but the ambush the other day hit a new low. Eighteen of those killed were journalists, men and women, simply doing their job of reporting. The papers have wide coverage of what happened: Philippine Daily Inquirer - No evidence yet vs Arroyo ally linked to massacre - PNP; Manila Bulletin - Massacre is single biggest loss of life of journalists; Philippine Star - Massacre probe focuses on GMA ally. ('GMA' is President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo).

The Philippine Star quotes President Arroyo: 'This is a supreme act of inhumanity that is a blight on our nation. the perpetrators will not escape justice. The law will haunt them until they are caught'. As we say in Ilonggo, 'Kabay pa' and in Cebuano, 'Hinaut pa unta' - 'Let us hope so.'


President Arroyo yesterday

CBCPNews carries this story, among others: Religious leaders mourn Maguindanao massacre:

DAVAO CITY, November 24, 2009—The Bishops Ulama Conference (BUC) issued a statement condemning in the strongest possible terms the abduction and killing of 36 relatives and supporters of Buluan Vice Mayor Datu Ismail “Toto” Mangudadatu in Maguindanao (a province in Mindanao) yesterday morning.

The statement, which was issued on behalf of the BUC by Davao Archbishop Fernando Capalla, said that Islamic and Christian faiths condemn in any way killings and abductions.

“This abominable sin was inflicted upon unarmed civilians whose only 'crime' was to proceed to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) office to file the Certificate of Candidacy on behalf of Mangudadatu, who is gearing for the gubernatorial seat in Maguindanao,” Capalla said.

“We grieve with the families of the victims, offer our prayers for the eternal repose of the innocent souls, and call upon the authorities to squarely address this atrocity,” he added. A number of journalists were likewise included in the massacre.

He also noted that the massacre which took place unprecedented in the province of Maguindanao mocks their humble but painstaking efforts to build harmony and understanding in Mindanao.

The BUC also called on the enemies of peace to stop the violence, end the midnless savagery and to respect human life. (Mark S. Ventura).

+++

Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop of Cebu, was quoted by Sun*Star Cebu in its story Many outraged; horrifying: Vidal as saying '(The acts are) unheard of, and horrifying'.


Freedom for Fr Michael Sinnott by Fr Seán McDonagh SSC

The article below is taken from the website of the Columbans in Ireland. Columban Father McDonagh, ordained in 1969, worked for many years in Mindanao and has written widely on ecological matters. I have highlighted parts of his article and made some [comments].

Freedom for Fr Michael Sinnott
Fr Seán McDonagh SSC


On Wednesday November 11, 2009, at 20.45, an official from the Department of Foreign Affairs phoned the Columbans Dalgan Park, Navan, Co Meath, to let us know that Fr Michael Sinnott had been freed by his captors and was on his way from Zamboanga City to Manila. The wave of joy that swept through our community here in Dalgan Park was palpable. The same was true for Father Michael’s relatives in Wexford and other parts of Ireland. The Irish Foreign Minister, Michael Martin put it well when he said. "It has been a tough 32 days for everybody concerned, but particularly so for those who were waiting anxiously at the end of the phone for news of their loved one."

The complex choreography surrounding Father Michael’s release involved the kidnappers, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine army. Both these groups have been involved in a protracted civil war in the Western part of Mindanao, the roots of which go back almost 400 years.

In his bid for freedom, Father Michael experienced a few false dawns. He was led to believe that he would be released on November 4th . However, the sea was rough because a typhoon was lashing the eastern coastline of the Philippines. When freedom came on November 12th, he was moved out of the forest and taken on an eight hour boat journey to Zamboanga City where Rashid Ladiason, head of the MILF handed him over to Major Carlos Sol, of the Philippine Army. Later that day he was flown to Villamor air base in Manila where he was greeted by the President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. After meeting the Irish Ambassador, Richard O’Brien, he was taken to the Columban residence in Manila where he was warmly welcomed by his fellow Columbans.

While we were overjoyed at the news that Father Michael was free, there was a niggling fear that his health might be permanently damaged. After all he is almost 80 years of age, and living in a tropical forest would test the endurance of someone half his age. Within a few hours we heard him speak, and our fears were allayed. His first words were words of gratitude for all those many people who had helped secure his release. These included agencies of the Philippine, Irish and U.S. governments along with thousands of people both in the Philippines, Ireland and around the world who had expressed their concerns and prayed that Michael’s captivity would end peacefully. The local Church in Pagadian, and especially Bishop Emmanuel (Manny) Cabajar, played a very significant, low key role in the who drama.

As a man of prayer Father Michael thanked people especially for their prayers. He believes that prayers helped sustain him during his ordeal.



Being greeted by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

On arriving in Manila Fr Michael appeared remarkably well. In a strong and clear voice he answered questions from journalists. There was not the slightest tone of anger or bitterness towards those who had deprived him of his freedom and put him through such an ordeal. Despite being held in the open in the tropics, moved over long distances a number of times, deprived of his heart medicine for the first ten days and without potable water, he did not suffer from gastro-enteritis or even a cold during his time in captivity.

When he was originally abducted we felt that an important value in both Christian and Muslim Philippine culture, namely respect for older people, had been breached. [This is so true.] Now we know that was not so. Father Michael said that after the first initial skirmish involved in his abduction, bundling him into the van and boat, his captors were kind to him, and did things for him that he was well able to do himself. Nevertheless, sleeping out and living on poor quality food is no picnic.

We never doubted Father Michael’s inner strength to meet almost anything he might encounter. He is an exceedingly prayerful person. What he missed most during the 32 days was his daily Mass, breviary and Holy Hour which for 50 years have been an integral part of his daily schedule. He told reporters that, “finding things to do was the most difficult part of his captivity. I’d say prayers in the morning and in the afternoon, I recited 20 decades of the Rosary.”And when asked, “what will you be doing next?” Without hesitation, he said he wished to return to his school for children with special needs in Pagadian City. With a wry smile he added, “they won't kidnap me again, he said, I'm too old, perhaps somebody younger." Everyone would have understood if he had said, “given the shock of this experience and my advanced age, I would now like to return to Ireland and retire.” But that is not how Fr Michael Sinnott and scores of other missionaries think.


Fr Michael getting a badly needed tidy up

In recent years people from both the Right and Left have questioned the ministry of missionaries from Ireland. Those on the Right would like to roll back the clock to the pre-Vatican II era, and push us back into the sacristy. [I think that this is a bit of a cliche. Certainly the Columbans were no 'sacristy priests' in the old days but were involved in building up parishes, including churches and schools in places where there were none. The Mass and the sacramentes were, indeed, at the center of their lives.] They claim that we are mere social workers, which is an insult to the majority of social workers who do extraordinary work in difficult situations. This claim is clearly contradicted by the television coverage of Father Michael and his colleagues giving thanks to God in the oratory in the Columban residence in Manila on November 12, 2009. Those on the Left are equally mistaken. They often refuse to acknowledge that source of Michael’s missionary concern for the poor, for those suffering from injustices and for the destruction of God’s creation, is grounded in the love God made manifest in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This is the Good News that he and missionaries are proud to proclaim.

The events surrounding the kidnapping and freedom of Fr Michael Sinnott, exemplify what is best in the Catholic Church. During his captivity, prayers for his welfare and freedom were offered in the Philippines, Ireland, Britain and the USA. Catholics from as far apart as the Kachin Hills in Myanmar and the barrios of Lima in Peru were praying for him. [There were also people in the Faroe Islands in the north Atlantic praying for him including an FMM Sister from a village in County Wexford where Father Michael's sister lives.] While he was deprived of his liberty and cut off from his community and friends, people around the world got a glimpse of the selfless devotion of this man, spanning five decades. [More than five decades - Father Michael will celebrate the 55th annviersary of his ordination on 21 December.] Finally, when he was released people encountered a forgiving, loving Christians, who wanted to return as quickly as possible to his ministry. This is a Church of which we can be justifiably proud.

24 November 2009

Return to the heart of mission


Fr Michael Sinnott at Villamor Air Base, near Manila, 12 November 2009

Today I came across a story by Clifford Coonan that appeared in The Irish Times on 16 November, Return to the heart of the mission. I found it on CathNewsPhilippines, the newly-launched news service of the Australia-based CathNews and the Hong Kong-based UCAN.


When I read the opening sentence I thought. 'Here we go again with the assumption that all Columbans are Irish'. The majority are. But Clifford Coonan later points out that there are Columbans from Australia, the UK, the USA and other countries, including the Philippines. He manages too to capture the peculiarly Irish sense of humour in the whole situation. He also made the very understandable mistake of calling the accent of Fr Don Kill of Toledo, Ohio, as 'Tagalog' one. Fr Kill, who was shot in an ambush in 1974, has spent all his time in the Philippines in Mindanao and speaks Cebuano-Visayan, the most widely-spoken first language in the Philippines. Here is the article.

Fr Don Kill

The kidnapping and safe return of Fr Michael Sinnott is the latest incident in the long and eventful history of Irish Columbans in the troubled islands of the Philippines.


IT’S ONE DAY after his release, and Fr Michael Sinnott managed to sleep half of last night, although he is terribly restless since his ordeal. But a lot of this restlessness seems related to his itching to return to Pagadian, to get back to the place from which he was roughly taken by an armed gang, nearly five weeks ago. Back to the Hangop Kabataan Foundation, the school for children with learning disabilities and for deaf children that Fr Sinnott opened 12 years ago.
What an autumn it has been for him. Thirty-two days in captivity, then a boat ride to freedom, followed by meeting president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at a Manila airport.


In the Columban headquarters, there is joy at his release, but also a peculiarly Irish desire that no one gets too full of himself. In the oratory, when I ask Fr Sinnott to sit in a particular seat for a photo, one of his colleagues says: “Why don’t you levitate for us there, Mick?”


As with so much else in the Philippines, domestic politics played a big role behind the scenes, and it seems that remarks by senior security officials that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was involved could have slowed his release.


His abductors, who appear to have been a splinter group of Islamic fundamentalists, members of the “lost commands” of splinter groups from the MILF, were angry when the MILF said kidnapping was against the rules of the Koran. “My head guard said that it was all very well for them, they had money, but we have nothing,” Fr Sinnott says.


There is happy news. The 200,000 pesos (€2,886) offered as a reward by the Pagadian city authorities, and the same amount offered by the provincial government, was never claimed. One senior cleric reminded the government of this, and suggested it be donated to Fr Sinnott’s Hangop Kabataan school, and it has.


The sum is slightly less than the 250,000 pesos (€3,607) that local sources say was the amount paid to Fr Sinnott’s kidnappers, well shy of the $2 million (€1.35 million) the abductors were seeking. This is also a lot less than the usual “food and lodging” payments made to kidnappers in the region as a face-saving measure.


Part of the reason Fr Sinnott seems so able to deal with his ordeal is that he has endured far worse in his years in the Philippines.


The Marcos years were the toughest for him, and discussing the horrors of that time brings tears to Fr Sinnott’s eyes. He sheds no tears about his personal plight, but his anger and emotion about the disastrous period of rule by Ferdinand Marcos is clear. “There were a lot of killings, a lot of harassment. “That was a far more stressful time than the whole fear of kidnapping in Mindanao,” he says.


Marcos became president in 1965 and introduced martial law in 1972, largely as a pretext to running the country as his own personal fiefdom, with his free-spending wife Imelda Marcos at this side, until Corazon (Cory) Aquino came to power on the back of People Power in 1986.
“There was a lot of pressure from the military because we spoke up for justice. And to say anything was unjust was to be called a Communist,” he said.


A number of parish workers were killed during this time. On one occasion he went to find three missing relatives of his parishioners, who were later discovered shot by a military checkpoint. “At one point 18 people were killed in three weeks. We did research, and nine were killed by the military or the paramilitaries, six were killed by the [Communist group] New People’s Army, and three we could not be certain about,” he says.


Fr Sinnott tells of driving back to his parish one morning on a Honda 60 motorcycle one evening and seeing a lump by the side of the road, which he thought was a dead calf.


“It was a man, dead, the blood running out of his head,” he said. All day was spent trying to find someone who would help him take the body and find who had killed him, but the body was still there by 11pm.


“I remember thinking how cheap human life had become. A human life had less value than the life of a chicken,” he says. For his concern for the well-being of his parishioners, Fr Sinnott was top of a list of Communists.


There was a great sense of elation when Corazon Aquino came to power after the assassination of her husband Ninoy Aquino at the Manila airport in 1983 that now bears his name. But she spent her presidency fighting off seven attempted coups and failing to gain control over the interests that rule the Philippines – the 60 large families and the army.



With President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the air base

THE PAST IS past. Now, as heavy rain thrums on the roof of the refectory, there is time to recount some of the details of his release in the early hours of Thursday morning.


Fr Sinnott tells of being driven by a fast boat from the place where he was being held.


“I was hopeful I was being freed, but I’d been let down a few times. I knew I was eight hours away from where I had been taken, but I was made wear a tarpaulin over me, even though it was dark,” he says.


The boat had two 45-horsepower engines, which the local pirates claim can outrun any police or naval craft. He was let off the boat, and stepped down into shallow water.


“I saw three guys. They escorted me 100 yards to where a group of MILF negotiators met me. They had two very nice cars there to meet me. They said: “You are safe, you are safe now. We are the MILF and we will hand you over.”


Fr Michael McGuire, Columban Vice Superior in the Philippines, with Fr Sinnott. The Irish Times mistakenly identified Fr McGuire as our superior, Fr Pat O'Donoghue, who was on his way to Manila at the time.

The Columbans of Singalong Street VOICES OF WEXFORD, Cork and Toledo; Ohio tones mix with Tagalog accents as the priests sit down to eat a hearty meal to celebrate the return of one of their order’s veterans and the hero of the hour, Fr Michael Sinnott, back from a gruelling stint in captivity.

Unusually, there is wine with dinner, to celebrate, and the priests clap as the man everyone calls Mick walks in.

This is a busy religious community, with long experience of living in the Philippines. Fr Don Kill is from Toledo but has spent so long in the Philippines that he is speaking with a strong Tagalog accent. Another priest is keen to talk about debt relief. Fr Mick McGuire is keeping an eye on things because the Columban regional director, Fr Pat O’Donoghue, has been spending so much time trying to help with Fr Sinnott’s release.

It is back to the business of eating quickly, and talk is, literally, of parish-pump politics, as well as new vocations, logistics and other issues close to a missionary’s heart.

The days when you could approach a European-looking priest in the Philippines, ask him a question in Irish and have a good chance of getting a reply in the same tongue, are long gone.

The number of Irish missionaries coming to the country is minimal, and most of the priests in the Columban headquarters in Manila have been there for decades. “I’m one of the youngest here,” says Fr O’Donoghue, who is 61 years old. “The thinking now is to make this a manageable unit to be managed by Filipinos,” he says. He has sold three houses in a process that he calls “rationalisation”, though you get the sense others have called it something else, less complimentary.

There are currently 46 Columbans in the Philippines, of whom four are from the Philippines, and the rest are from Ireland, Australia, the UK, the US and other countries. At its peak in the mid-1970s, there were 255 Columbans. The Philippines is the only country in Asia where the Catholic Church dominates.

The creed was brought by the Spanish in 1521 and remains the religion of 90 per cent of the population. The remaining 10 per cent include various Protestant denominations, 4.5 million Muslims in the southern islands of Mindanao and Sulu, and a smattering of indigenous religions. There is also a kind of folk Catholicism that blends tribal beliefs with more traditional Catholic liturgy.

In recent years, evangelical Christians have made strong headway in the Philippines, but Roman Catholicism is still strong and one of the reasons is that organisations such as the Columbans are deeply embedded in local life.

The order recently moved its directorate to Hong Kong from Raheny, a move that was unpopular, but Fr O’Donoghue believed it was the right one. Since 1970, only Filipinos have been appointed bishops.

The Asian focus is nothing new in the Columbans; it is part of its mandate. The order was founded by Fr Edward Galvin and some colleagues as the Maynooth Mission to China in 1916, and then changed its name to the Missionary Society of St Columban, after the Irish missionary who spread Christianity throughout western Europe in the sixth and seventh centuries. They first went to Shanghai in 1920, and in 1929 went to the Philippines, where they were initially based in Manila and the neighbouring diocese of Cavite.

They went to Mindanao, where Fr Sinnott works, in 1938, and grew steadily in number after the second World War, staffing parishes, schools and hospitals. Since then, more than 400 Columban priests, sisters and lay missionaries have worked in the Philippines.

Their presence in the Philippines has been an eventful one. In February 1983, Columban Fr Niall O’Brien was arrested with two other priests and six lay workers for the murders of Mayor Pablo Sola of Kabankalan and four companions. He embraced the revolutionary form of Christianity known as liberation theology and was a proponent of active non-violence.

The former US president, Ronald Reagan, secured him a pardon from Ferdinand Marcos during his visit in 1984, but Fr O’Brien refused to accept it, as it would look like an admittance of guilt. Charges were dropped on condition that he left the country, but for the months that the scandal ran on, the whole world was able to see the degree of corruption that characterised the Marcos regime. Fr O’Brien left the country, and he died in Pisa in 2004, aged 64, following an accidental fall.

A major reason the Columbans are so engaged in politics is their presence in Mindanao, a desperately poor and isolated region long wriggling under the rule of Manila, and home to so many indigenous tribes and Muslims. None of the small number of elite families, the haciendas that famously run the Philippines, has much of a presence here.

Fr O’Donoghue laughs when asked about the way the order has attracted radicals over the years, saying Columbans have always embraced a wide body of opinion. The Columbans were back in the headlines again in 1997, when Mgr Des Hartford was held by Islamic militants for 12 days, then released. Mgr Hartford was lucky and he survived, but his colleague and Fr O’Donoghue’s friend from the seminary, Fr Rufus Halley, was shot dead during an attempted abduction in 2001.

Fr Halley was very close to the Muslim community but appears to have become caught up in a family feud, and tensions were heightened when the army got involved. Hundreds of Muslims attended his funeral and burial to mark the work of the Waterford priest in Lanao del Sur.

On top of the traditional missionary work done by the Columbans in the Philippines, the order is also involved in inter-faith dialogue with Muslims and indigenous peoples, mostly concentrated in Marawi and Pagadian.

In the early Manila evening, the sky has turned a lurid red, and the traffic is backed up all the way down Singalong Street, where the Columban headquarters in Manila is located.

“I would hope the Philippines will be thriving and that in the future the Columbans have something to offer,” says Fr O’Donoghue.

23 November 2009

Fr Michael Sinnott's release: statement by Irish Foreign Minister

Iveagh House, Dublin, HQ of Irish Department of Foreign Affairs

I just found the press release below on the website of Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs. It was issued on 11 November. I know that Foreign Minister Martin was totally involved in trying to obtain the release of Father Sinnott. Until 18 October he was also dealing with the kidnapping of Irish GOAL volunteer, Sharon Commins, who had been kidnapped in July in Sudan. Thank God, she was safely released. It's not often that Irish citizens are kidnapped overseas and Mr Martin has to be commended for his commitment to the people he serves. It's surely a great strain on a person in his position to have to deal with two cases on two different continents. In the previous post Fr Pat O'Donoghue gave an example of his thoughtfulness.

I've highlighted some points in the press release.

Minister Micheál Martin (in photo below) expressed his delight at the safe release in the Philippines of Fr. Michael Sinnott
11/11/2009


An Roinn Gnóthaí Eachtracha Preas Ráiteas
Department of Foreign Affairs Press Release

Preas Oifig, Teach Uibh Eachach, Faiche Stiabhna, Baile Átha Cliath 2
Press Office, Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2.

Tel: 353 -1- 478 0822 Fax: 353 -1- 478 5942 / 475 7476
Idirlíon/Internet: http://www.dfa.ie/ Ríomh Phost/E-mail: press.office@dfa.ie

Minister Micheál Martin expressed his delight at the safe release in the Philippines of Fr. Michael Sinnott

Speaking today he said:

“I am personally delighted and relieved to relay the news that Fr. Michael Sinnott has been freed by his captives and handed over to the Philippine authorities.

The release of Fr. Michael represents the successful conclusion of a major diplomatic effort by the Irish and Philippine Governments. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Philippine Government and to the people of the Philippines for the excellent cooperation they extended to us in securing Fr. Michael’s release. Equally, our EU partners in Manila were a valuable support. I would also like to underline our deep appreciation to the United States Government for their assistance. The International Committee of the Red Cross also assisted.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines greets Fr Sinnott on his arrival in Manila.

I would especially like to thank Ambassador Richard O’Brien and his colleagues on the ground for their perseverance and determination in bringing about this happy outcome.

As in previous kidnaps, no ransom was paid by the Irish Government. To do so would only have jeopardised the vital work of aid workers and missionaries around the world - it would also place other Irish citizens in danger.

Fr. Michael Sinnott, a member of the Columban Fathers, displayed great forbearance in enduring more than a month in captivity, in spite of his age and difficult health. Fr. Michael has spent much his life working for the poorest of the poor in the Philippines, and I know that the ordinary people of the Philippines will be overjoyed to have him returned safe and well to his community.

I would like to pay my own personal tribute to the Sinnott family, who have behaved with great dignity during this ordeal. I would also like to thank the Columban fathers, both in Ireland and on the ground in the Philippines, with whom we have remained in constant contact during this difficult period. It has been a tough 32 days for everybody concerned, but particularly so for those who were waiting anxiously at the end of the phone for news of their loved one.

Fr. Michael, his family and the Columban fathers exemplify all that is great about Ireland – their sense of justice, their stoicism, their selflessness, and their innate dedication to helping the less fortunate among us. Working on this case over the past month has left me with an even deeper admiration for the work of our missionaries abroad. Ireland is immensely proud of their achievements”.

Ends+++
11 November 2009
Press Office
Statue of St Columban, Luxeuil, France


Though I'm posting the press release 12 days late it is fitting to do so as St Columban's Day draws to a close here in the Philippines.

Fr Michael Sinnott's release: Days of Thanksgiving



DAYS OF THANKSGIVING
Fr Pat O’Donoghue
Columban Regional Director, Philippines

‘I know the plans I have in mind for you, plans for peace and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope’ (Jer 29:11) [Antiphon for Ferial Mass Sunday, 15 November 2009]

Fr Mick Sinnott was released from his captivity at 4.30am on Thursday, 12 November 2009. It was the moment that so many had waited and prayed for. It was a moment of great joy and thanksgiving and the days since then have been marked by the same sense of joyful gratitude. Right around the world, as people heard the news of his release, there was joyful celebration and praise to the God who had brought him safely back to us. It is indeed ‘good news’ and, as we so often read in the Gospel, when people experienced the presence of God in Jesus’ healing, God was praised and thanked with joyful hearts.

No one who has been journeying with Father Mick in his 31 days of captivity has any doubt that it was God’s providence that led to his release last Thursday. God’s plans for his peaceful release have been beautifully revealed. But I believe that God’s plans for a much broader peace in Mindanao (something Father Mick himself spent so much time and effort on) are also being gently unfolded before us. God has listened to the heartfelt prayers of so many around the world to release Father Mick from his captivity and he has united those prayers with his own desire to release Mindanao (and other places here) from the ‘captivity’ of conflict and fear that has been part of our story for many years. God’s plans for peace are far more wonderful than we might have dared to hope, as the antiphon reminds us
.
Late Wednesday (11 November) evening I had an indication that Father Mick might be released on Thursday (12th). The previous Wednesday (4 November) we also had our hopes raised. But they did not materialise. This time, I was trying to remain ‘indifferent’ but I did spend time in the Chapel urging Jesus that it might be so this time! I slept but not easily. Then just after 4.30am my cell phone rang with the news that we all had longed to hear – he was free at last. Within a few minutes I had another phone call giving me the news that he was indeed now with government officials in Zamboanga City. How can I describe my feelings? I cried with joy, relief and gratitude. My prayer of gratitude to God was truly heartfelt and I sensed that God was rejoicing with us too. How true it is that God delights in showering his goodness upon us.

But that ‘peaceful prayer’ was cut short very quickly as the news agencies began to call me for my reaction. How lovely it was to share the good news with them, especially those reporters who had journeyed with us these last weeks. They were genuinely delighted when they phoned and asked for my reaction. It truly was a moment everyone could share in. Looking back now there was a ‘comical’ element to it as both my cell phones and the landlines all began to ring at once, even as I was trying to make some phone calls or send text messages to send the good news to those who were still sleeping! But it was a ‘happy chaos’ as the news spread and people wanted both to share in it and get something for their news stories.

Sometime after 5am I got a phone call from Zamboanga City. I believe that it was Ambassador Seguis (undersecretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs). He told me that Father Mick was with him and would like to speak to me. In the moments I waited while he passed the phone to Father Mick I wondered how he would sound. I need not have worried – his voice was just as it always was, though he did sound tired. As I tumbled out my questions, asking how he was etc etc he calmly replied that he was fine but a little tired as he did not get any sleep that night and had been hiking the previous afternoon. And then, in typical fashion, he apologised for causing all the fuss! He sounded so much himself that I began to wonder if he had been ever been abducted!

Shortly after that people began to arrive at the house to celebrate! To be honest, my memory is hazy with regard to those hours. I contacted someone to see about getting to Zamboanga by road (it is a 4-5 hour journey and I would have needed security). Father Mick then phoned me a second time to tell me that he would be travelling to Manila on a government plane and was expected to arrive there at 10.30am. My suggestion that they might set down in Pagadian on the way was treated for the joke it was! So I managed to call Fr Mick McGuire (Columban Vice Superior in the Philippines) to arrange that he would go with Irish Ambassador Richard O’Brien to the airport to meet Father Mick, who would also be met by the President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Meanwhile, I had to arrange to get myself to Manila via Ozamiz. The four Sacred Heart priests (assigned in Dumalinao) came early to rejoice – they had been through this themselves in 2001 when Fr Pepe Pierantoni was kidnapped in Dimataling, a former Columban parish in the diocese of Pagadian. Shortly after that Bishop Manny Cabajar arrived with some others. He, too, was tired as he had been in the neighbouring province playing a very important part in the whole process of Father Mick’s release. To say that we were all relieved would be the understatement of the day! How different our conversation was that morning from so many other days when news was uncertain and rumour rife.


Just before 10am the security detail who would accompany me on the road trip to Ozamiz arrived and I realised I wasn’t ready to leave. I did have a bag packed with Father Mick’s clothes etc in it, but my own was not packed. It just took four minutes as I pushed everything in and began the two hour journey to Ozamiz.

As I checked in at the airport people approached to offer good wishes. Everyone said the same thing – we have been praying for Father Mick – and they were all delighted that he was again free, asking me how he was and where he was etc. In the departure lounge, I phoned Fr Mick McGuire to ask where Fr Mick Sinnott was. I wanted to go straight from the airport in Manila to the hospital where I thought he would be. We had our contingency plans ready, as we assumed that he would need to be taken to hospital for a full check-up. How wrong we were! He was back in our Singalong house having lunch! Having arrived in Manila to the formal welcome with President Macapagal-Arroyo, the Irish Ambassador and Fr Mick McGuire among others, he was taken to a private room where he was able to speak with the President and the others who met him. After that meeting, he was taken to a press conference, which was televised live and, to many people’s surprise, he handled himself like he was doing this all his life! He had asked to return to Singalong and have his medical check-up done from there. It was a wise decision. After the press conference a presidential escort brought him home – for once traffic was not a problem!

With the barber and, I think, Dr Navalta

My plane arrived in Manila ahead of schedule and I arrived in our house just before 3.30pm. Father Mick was having his hair cut and his beard shaved off! He looked tired but well. It was great to see him and to see him so well. It was a little awkward to hug him as he sat with the barber’s robe around him, but I did! He had that particular smile of his as if to say when is all this fuss going to be over! How different he looked from what I had feared during those weeks of captivity. Dr Navalta, our doctor, was already there. He has given Father Mick a thorough check-up and was arranging to have a series of tests done in the following days. He, too, was more than surprised as how well Father Mick was, though there were some things that needed immediate attention. By contrast he suggested that I was not looking that great!!

There were some TV cameras already at the gate and others came shortly after, but we asked that they would wait for a while to give Father Mick and the rest of us a chance to catch up. They were more than willing.



We were all so eager to hear Father Mick’s story that we did not tell him much about what had been happening on the ‘outside’ during his time in the swamp and later in the forest! He was surprised by the media coverage and the extent of the worldwide interest in him and his abduction. Around 5pm we allowed the first reporters and TV crews to interview him. He also answered calls from radio stations in Ireland. He was as obliging as he always is – never refusing, even when I wanted to call time. When he was not able to take a call, I became the ‘second choice’!! It was well after 9pm when the last of the reporters left and we refused any more phone calls from the media for that night.

As I listened to him telling his story again and again, I began to pick up more of the details of what it had been like for him during his captivity and my admiration for the man grew even more. Father Mick, as is his style, played down the difficulty of the conditions in which he was kept as much as the discomfort when he was changed from one location to another. He was ten days in what he calls a ‘swampy area’. When he got out of the hammock, which was used to sleep and sit in, he stepped into almost knee-high water and his feet were in the mud underneath. Food was also a problem there as they were unable to cook anything. For those ten days he had no medication. He did find it difficult to walk through this swamp when he had to, but again, while acknowledging the difficulty, he played it down. When they got to the ‘forest area’, as he calls it, which was quite a journey from the swamp, things were better. His captors made a pathway of about ten meters in the vegetation, which allowed him to exercise. He also had his essential medications there. The food was somewhat better also – the emphasis should be on ‘somewhat’! As for shelter, they had a tarpaulin over them and that was it. When there was wind with the rain, they got wet and sometimes he had to sleep in wet clothes. That he never got an infection is one of the great graces that he, and all of us, believe was the fruit of all the prayers being offered for him. Father Mick’s total lack of self-pity is something that has impacted on everyone. Listening to him, if you really did not know the harshness and primitive nature of his conditions, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was just a few weeks on a ‘nature hike’. The reality was much much different, despite what he says.

Every reporter that he spoke with remarked on how impressed they were by his calmness and lack of bitterness, resentment and anger. Many of us will have heard of the Stockholm Syndrome, where an alliance builds between the kidnap victim and his/her captors. I don’t believe that this can adequately explain Father Mick’s own way of responding then or now to his abduction and as the days have gone on I am more convinced of that. He was forthright and honest about what had happened. He did not shrink from speaking of the more unpleasant aspects of the experience, especially the actual abduction itself during which he was roughly treated, but he genuinely feels that they did their best to care for him as much as possible and is grateful for that. Once they assured him that they did not intend to kill him, and once he had surrendered to God’s way (after an initial ‘complaint’ to God as he puts it himself!) he seems to have settled down to wait. He said that he knew from the experience of previous kidnappings that sometimes they take a long time to resolve. His only prayer was that it would not be ‘months’! And he added to one reporter: ‘You could get used to anything’. He has shown us that he can – and those of us who know him, recognise the genuineness of that statement. His own faith relationship with God – and the integrity that that has honed in him – sustained and nurtured him.

But Father Mick himself is the first one to insist that his calmness and peace were also the gift of all the prayers that were being offered for him. And as he has come to know how many were praying for him, he believes that more and more. He has had many reminders as the days go by of just how many prayers have been offered for him. His concern is how he can ‘repay’ all those thousands of people who have been praying constantly for him. We are assuring him that seeing him free and well is the only ‘repayment’ that anyone would ever want. But we can be sure that all those who prayed for him will be included in his prayers for the rest of his life.

He began his medical tests on Friday. But it was also another busy day of interviews with the media who came to the house as much as with those who called from abroad. He spoke with Papal Nuncio Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams early Friday morning and with Bishop Cabajar. He was also happy to speak, using my cel phone, with a number of people who had expended a lot of energy to have him released. One of these was Governor Aurora Cerilles in Pagadian. Mr Micheál Martin, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, and I were both on an early morning radio program in Northern Ireland. [It was afternoon here. Father Mick went on the same program on Saturday morning.] A few minutes after the program, the Minister called me to convey his good wishes to Father Mick and myself. It says a lot for the man that he did not ask to speak to Father Mick as he did not want to disturb him. But I insisted that Father Mick would be very happy to speak to him and he did. They had a lively ten-minute conversation (a Wexford man and a Corkman!) after which I again spoke with Minister Martin who also was ‘taken’ by Father Mick’s simplicity and genuineness.

Saturday was less hectic. One of the more important things was to get Father Mick new eyeglasses. We had tried to send his glasses to him with our first attempt to get medication to him, but they never got to him. We can only wonder who is using them now?! He went to his eye doctor of many years, who graciously saw him immediately. It was his first trip out of the house since he arrived Thursday and he soon realised that he is ‘recognised’ by many ordinary 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. All wanted to have their photo taken with him. He obliged, his own gentle way of saying thanks to people whom he ‘recognises’ for their genuineness and goodness.

There were some more interviews in the mid afternoon and then, shortly after 5pm we set out for the Thanksgiving Mass in Malate Church at 6pm. We wanted to arrive a little early to allow time for people to greet him before Mass – and he was ‘mobbed’! It was the last night of the novena to Our Lady of Good Remedy, to whom we had been fervently praying for his release. The church was packed to capacity. The Irish Ambassador, Richard O’Brien, Honorary Consul General of Ireland, 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 and joyful 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 now have the recording.) 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. There had been two phone calls from the office of the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, while we were at Malate and the secretary had promised to phone again. She did just before 10pm and Father Mick spoke with the President for about 10 minutes. She told him that she hopes to see him at her residence, Áras an Uachtaráin, very soon!

The days of thanksgiving go on. It is now just a week since Father Mick’s release and things have ‘settled’ a little. When he goes to Mindanao next week for a visit, we can be sure that there will be more joyful thanksgiving celebrations. As I end this, however, I would like to offer my own reflection on these most extraordinary weeks. What I share here is more or less what I shared in my homily at the Thanksgiving Mass in Malate on Saturday, November 14th.

‘My Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour...... He who is mighty has done great things for me [Luke 1:47, 49].

The Visitation, El Greco


Two women, both pregnant, one beyond normal child-bearing years, the other a teenager, rejoice together. Each knows that the child in her womb is a particular and singular blessing from the All-Gracious God. And it is this shared knowledge of the heart that allows them to exult together in God’s goodness. They believe that Yahweh’s promise to Israel, long foretold and long waited for, is being fulfilled in and through them and their children. And they acutely know that this is all gift. And so their hearts overflow with joy as they experience the goodness, faithfulness and tender yet passionate love of God for his people – anew.

We have all read those words of the Magnificat many times. We have understood them, been encouraged by them and maybe even delighted in them. But to what extent have we truly experienced them? I’m sure some people have, especially when God has ‘entered’ their lives in unexpected and life-giving ways. I am not a mother and so I cannot know what it is like to experience the first ‘stirrings’ of the baby in the womb. I am told it is a most beautiful and precious experience, especially so when it is the first pregnancy. On Thursday morning, November 12th, something stirred deep in my heart, in my very being, when at 4.30am I got news that Father Mick was free. I really can’t even begin to describe that experience nor the feelings of joyful gratitude that welled up within me when I heard his voice later on the phone. What I do know is that I experienced his release and his good health as sheer gift of a provident and gracious God – there was ‘new life’. And within this I also experienced my own ‘lowliness’, though not as a burden or an embarrassment, but as a reminder of how much we are constantly loved by the One who is Love. This aspect of Father Mick’s release can only be shared and understood by those who live in the horizon of belief. And during these last five weeks God has built up a worldwide ‘community of believers’ who have put their trust in God and reached out to him in prayerful asking and waited on his promise to be fulfilled in God’s time and way. That ‘community’ now rejoices together as we see God’s promise fulfilled and Father Mick safely and healthily restored to us.

We know that God is good. To experience it is gift. In these last five weeks many have been drawn into a deep experience of God’s wonderful goodness and mystery. It was a journey which led us to “ponder” God’s word anew in fairly extraordinary circumstances and to hold to God’s promise and wait in hope in ways that sometimes ‘stretched’ our faith. I now believe that it was Mary who gathered us, a ‘community of prayer’ from many parts of the world, and accompanied us, as she did when she and the disciples waited for the wonderful promise of Jesus (that he would not leave them orphans) to be fulfilled on Pentecost Day.

Remembering is at the heart of our faith. We are constantly called to ‘remember’ who God really is and how he has shown his love throughout history, despite infidelity and ‘forgetting’ and betrayal of his goodness. Eucharist is central to our ‘remembering’ as Christians – there, more than anywhere, we are led into the most intimate self-giving that God could ever give us. Mary gathered us into ‘remembering’ her Son and his presence and word to us, which became the source of our deepened trust and hope and surrender. She helped us see, as she herself came to see in her lifetime, that even in the darkest moments God is to be trusted. She held us, as ‘community of prayer’, in hope even when our expectations did not materialise, when we felt disappointment and dejection and when we wondered why God was not answering our prayers as we may have wanted. She helped us persevere, surrender again and again and trust that God does indeed make all things work to the good ultimately. I truly believe that the ‘surrendered hope’ which sustains waiting was Mary’s gift to me and many others these last weeks. It gave me a confidence to do what was possible and then wait in trust. I lovingly thank her for that precious gift and ask that it may last.

It is only now, perhaps, that we can better see how God was and still is answering our prayers in ways that are more wonderful than we could have imagined or foreseen. As Father Mick’s captivity lengthened more and more people were ‘joined’ to the community of prayer. But they were also joined to the greater desires of God’s heart that exceeded our ‘focus’ of Father Mick’s safety and freedom. It is for this reason that I believe we need to keep our prayers going – that God’s further desires may blossom soon.

There are three fruits of our prayer that I would like to focus on here. I am sure there are many more.

Firstly, there is Father Mick’s good health. He said he had no aches or pains despite the rough conditions. He did not get any infection, which medically speaking was nothing short of miraculous. And the care of his captors can be added in here.

Secondly, his safe release, which was secured through understanding, negotiation, patience and compassion. From the beginning I believed that his captors were capable of compassion and a number of times I said this publicly, adding that if they showed this, it is what we would remember them for. That nobody was injured, or worse killed, is a wonderful answer to prayer.

Thirdly, I believe that God desires to use our prayers for a much broader purpose. Father Mick has spent time and effort working with others for peace in Mindanao. He has been a member of the Interfaith Forum for Peace and Solidarity in Pagadian for many years. If plans work out, the welcome prayer gathering for him will be on Thursday, November 26, the beginning of the Mindanao Peace Week. I have a real sense that, in ways we might never fully know, the Peace Process negotiations with regard to Mindanao have been given ‘new life’ as a result of Father Mick’s abduction and 32 days in captivity. Might I then suggest that all of us, whether in our individual prayer or when we gather to pray, would continue to ask Our Lady of Good Remedy to bring peace to Mindanao and all of this beautiful and wonderful country of the Philippines. In this way we will be one with God who knows what plans he has in mind for us here for a peaceful and hope-filled future. May we see the ‘great things’ God has in mind come to fruit in Mindanao. Then we will have even more reason to rejoice.

I am aware that during Father Mick’s time of captivity, I have, on a number of occasions, thanked all of you who prayed with us, waited with us and offered your support and solidarity in all kinds of ways, as we sought his safe and speedy release. Now, I wish to reiterate that thanks and to also say thanks to the many people who emailed and/or called to offer their good wishes to Father Mick and to us here. Maybe, in time, we may get a thank you to all of you. I would also like to say a special word of thanks to all those who worked in often unseen ways but whose efforts and influence were crucial in securing Father Mick’s release. I include here those from the highest positions in national and local governments, to those in the Diplomatic Corps, to bishops and priests, to those very ordinary people on the ground. Many of these people showed courage and commitment that goes well beyond even the highest sense of duty. Many also became a source of inspiration to me. They all have our deepest gratitude. May they know that God, in whose providence we trusted, will not be outdone in generosity.

22 November 2009

St Columban's Day, 23 November: places associated with the saint.

St Columban, born in south-east Leinster, Ireland, c. 540, died in Bobbio, northern Italy, 23 November 615. Statue in Luxeuil, France.

Sunset in County Wexford, native county or Fr Michael Sinnott and part of the region where St Columban was probably born.

Blackstairs Mountains, County Wexford and County Carlow, in the region of Ireland where St Columban was born.


Glendalough, County Wicklow, not far from St Columban's birthplace, where St Kevin, his contemporary, founded a famous monastery

The harbour in Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland, where St Columban spent many years as a monk and from which he set out with twelve other monks for the European mainland.

Statue of St Columban, Luxueil, eastern France, where he established a monastery. Some Columban priest and seminarians helped restore the monastery in the 1950s and 1960s.

Stained glass of St Columban in the basilica in Bobbio, nothern Italy, where he died.

Bobbio

View of Bobbio from Ponto Gobbo

Statue of St Columban, Bobbio

Bobbio

Bobbio

HAPPY ST COLUMBAN'S DAY!