- The Contents
- Regular Sections
- About us
- Misyon Forum
By Richelle H. Verdeprado
The author will be starting her fourth year as a Social Work student at the University of Negros Occidental - Recoletos (UNO-R) in Bacolod City this June. She has written a number of articles before for Misyon.
It was the afternoon of February 14. I was sitting down, asking questions, taking down some notes and listening in the best way I could. There was no calm music to create a meditative mood but I was moved. I was reasonably disturbed. As he recalled what took place from October 11 until November 12 last year, he carried me to the forest where he spent many nights. He brought me to the mountains he had hiked and to the seas he had crossed. How come I'm hearing the story of his 32-day rough experience yet I can't find bitterness in his eyes? He must be a very good man.
I looked at him again and saw him smile. Now I know why. I was interviewing a great person who had united many people praying for his safe release and their prayers were answered. I was face to face with the 80-year old Irish Columban priest, Father Michael Sinnott, who made me realize what faith, love and forgiveness mean.
I started by asking him what had happened while he was in captivity. He told me how four men, one holding a gun, had forcefully taken him away from the Columban house in Pagadian City. Then he continued sharing about their daily routine, how often they transferred while he lay down covered on the floor of the boat, how many times they had to set up their hammocks again and again, how he lost weight and how he survived. That was how he taught me faith.
'I was confident that they would not do me any harm. I had no medicine and so I thought of my health. There was also a possibility that the military would try to release me by force and it was difficult to see how in that case I could escape unharmed. But I never doubted God's protection. I knew that he would answer my prayers. He would answer our prayers,' said Father Sinnott.
'During those testing moments, days and nights seemed to be longer than usual. You had to look for something to do aside from being keen to the signals and sounds around. You had to keep yourself optimistic that the next view of a mountain would be something that could give hope and not just another mountain to be climb. However, it would be a bit different for persons who loved to do that kind of thing - climb mountains and so on - and are used to it', the priest added.
For Father Sinnott, those long days and nights never shook his faith. He never got tired of saying his personal prayers and finishing the twenty decades of the rosary day after day. It was only his physical body that they had captured, not his heart, not his soul.
There is another story about one of his captors, called 'Kikay', who was always with him and slept in a hammock right alongside him but was good to him. The first day after he was captured, his captors interrogated him and went through his pockets and took everything from him except his Rosary beads and his watch. Kikay said that he could have easily taken the watch except he would not do it without Father Sinnott's permission. After a few days they made an agreement that the day Kikay brought him to freedom Father would give him the watch. As Father Sinnott was about to be freed when they had almost arrived at the seashore Kikay, who was alongside him, put his hand under the tarpaulin which was covering him, snatched his watch, and then pushed him out of the boat into the shallow water. Father Sinnott said that it was fine with him but he would have been happier to personally give it to him as a sign of his appreciation for his kindness and shake hands with him before they parted. He believes that there was goodness in that man waiting to be unleashed. He had let that man and his companions feel unconditional love. Little did I know that I was also being taught what love is.
I began wondering who Father Sinnott was before the kidnapping happened. Why did he choose to be a missionary priest? What I discovered was an interesting story. He closed his eyes for a while, and then continued, 'I felt God was calling me. It started when I was in high school. A missionary priest came to our class as part of a vocation promotion. According to him, there were three things needed to be accepted. You must be of good moral character; you must have average intelligence and good health. Two years later I applied to the Columbans and was accepted.'
It has been 55 years ago since his ordination as a priest in 1954. It was not an easy life and many times he had to carry the crosses of others. It was a life of sacrifice, service and ministry but more than anything else, it was a life of meaning and fullness. Father Sinnott made me realize this when he said, 'I'm very happy and fulfilled as I priest. I never regret that I chose to respond to God's call and I encourage the youth to seriously think about what they are called to do.'
This is another lesson about love. Now, Father Sinnott is back doing what he had dedicated himself to do. He did not extend his Christmas vacation in Ireland nor ask to be transferred to another place. Instead, he is very willing to offer himself again. He continues to be with Hangop Kabataan which is a center he established for children with disabilities in Pagadian City. He continues to help Filipinos in addressing their economic and spiritual concerns. He continues to touch their lives.
I was just sitting down but I traveled a long way. My thoughts, my spirit, my heart . . . they were all moved positively and I'll always thank Fr Seán Coyle, the editor of Misyon, for setting up this interview. I'll always thank Father Sinnott for inspiring me and for teaching me about some of the greatest forces in our life: faith and love.
But here's the third lesson Father Sinnott also taught me: forgiveness. He has forgiven his captors and he hasn't held bad feelings towards them ever since. I asked what he would do if he saw his captors again. What he said struck me, 'I will thank them for being good to me. But I hope I will not meet them in a kidnapping situation'. I agreed with him and we both laughed.
You may contact Richelle at firstname.lastname@example.org