Kidnapped Priest released in the Philippines

Manila (AsiaNews) – The Irish priest kidnapped a month ago in Pagadian (Mindanao) was released this morning before dawn at 4:25 in the coastal village of Sangalo. The Philippines and Ireland said they had not paid any ransom. The kidnappers had demanded the payment of 2 million U.S. dollars. Delivered by a group of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) to a military base in Zamboanga, Fr. Michael Sinnot said he was treated well by his captors, though he had to endure many difficulties when moving by sea and walking in the jungle that the rebels used as cover to escape army troops.

The priest says he has no ill feeling towards his kidnappers. "They treated me well … I was given lectures on their ideology, but for the rest, I was treated well."

Fr. Michael Sinnott, 79, a Columban missionary, was kidnapped on 11 October in the courtyard of his church by an armed group. Initially, authorities had suspected that the group belonged to the terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the armed group fighting for autonomy in Mindanao.

Fr. Sinnot has ruled that his kidnappers belonged to the MILF. "I am very sure," said the priest, after his release, "My captors were real nomads, not MILF." He also said that the reason for his kidnapping was for money in ransom.

In fact is was MILF – which has offered to help the army – that delivered the freed, priest, whose suffered precarious health conditions and had undergone by-pass surgery.

At the end of October, the kidnappers released a video of the priest, in which they demanded a ransom of 2 million dollars. The Philippine authorities and the Irish state say they did not pay the ransom.

General Ben Dolorfino, has applauded the commitment of MILF and stated that the release of Fr Sinnot is a “positive measure for the upcoming peace negotiations".

MILF, after decades of insurgency in the south, had opened peace talks with the government, but they were suspended last year due to a series of accidents caused by rebel groups in Mindanao.

Prayer brings down walls

This week we’ve seen the 10 year anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down, signifying the end of an era within the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Among all the reportage and commentary this article caught my eye in particular. It is from the Christian Charity Open Doors which has been working for amy years to support the church in countries where it is persecuted.

In 1982 Open Doors decided to prioritise work in the Soviet Union, focusing on two major projects: reaching out to the tens of millions of Russian Orthodox believers who did not have a Bible and strengthening the church in the Muslim republics of the Soviet Union, giving them a vision to reach out to their Muslim neighbours. And this was backed by a seven-year prayer campaign.

Slowly but surely things began to change – and the impact was seen in the wider political world as well as within Open Doors. From 1987 large numbers of religious prisoners were released from prisons and labour camps. There were 340 imprisoned Christian believers in 1985; just 17 by March 1990.

By 1988 the Soviet economy was in crisis. President Gorbachev, looking for support for a restructuring programme, promised that from this point on Christians would be recognised as ‘Soviet people, working people, patriots’. Churches began to be reopened.

In the same year, changed postal regulations allowed tens of thousands of New Testaments to be sent to believers and churches across the Soviet Union.

Brother Andrew took advantage of the new openness to get an agreement that in this year of the millennium celebrations of the Russian Orthodox Church, Open Doors would officially present them with one million New Testaments: he handed over the one millionth copy in person in Moscow to the Patriarch Alexy II.

The Nikolai Church in Leipzig, East Germany, had been holding prayers for peace every Monday evening since 1982. From a handful, the numbers had grown, and the prayer meetings became a focus for people longing for change. In October 1989 around 70,000 gathered outside the church: it was the revolution of ‘candles and prayers’.

So by November 1989 it was clear that change was sweeping through the communist bloc. But the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, while the border guards looked on, was a dramatic sign that things would not be the same again.

Peter K, an Open Doors team member, recalls that day: "My colleague and I got straight in the car and drove to Berlin to be part of that historic occasion. What a joy, what an answer to prayer!"

On another visit to Berlin, he told his taxi driver that people in the West had prayed for years for this. The driver stopped the car and said with tears in his eyes: "On behalf of the Germans of Berlin, I want to thank you for your prayers; God answered your prayers!"

Peter continues, "Now I am praying for North Korea. There are two Koreas, but God can make it one. I pray that He will open prison doors! He did it in Berlin and the wall came down. He can do it also in Korea!"

This coming Sunday has been designated an International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Please join me in praying for our brothers and sisters around the world suffering for their faith in Christ. This year there is a particular focus on the needs of persecuted Christians in Orissa India.