Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reflections on kidnappings past and present

Philippine Daily Inquirer/Opinion/by Ma. Ceres P.Doyo
AS IRISH COLUMBAN missionary Fr. Michael Sinnott enters his 24th day of captivity, people from all walks of life continue to pray that his kidnappers would have compassion and free him soon. That is, without ransom being paid. His kidnappers have asked for a $2-million ransom.

Fr. Pat O’Donoghue, regional director of the Missionary Society of St. Columban, has insisted again and again that Sinnott would not want that money be the reason for his release. The no-ransom policy stands.
As O’Donoghue stressed, paying ransom would “just add to everyone else’s vulnerability.” They are missionaries, “not commodities,” he added. For more than two decades these bandits/terrorists have been treating the religious as commodities.

The first kidnapping of religious that I had to write about involved the Carmelite nuns of Marawi City in 1986. I had to do a cover story on the kidnapping of the 10 nuns for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine at that time (“They also serve those who only pray,” July 20, 1986). That was 23 years ago.

In the recent “Reflections” or prayerful bulletins of O’Donoghue on Sinnott’s case, he mentioned that he officiated at the silver jubilee celebration of a Carmelite nun, Sr. Judith Luceno, one of the kidnapped nuns in 1986. The nuns in Marawi have since moved away and joined other Carmelite convents. What a pity.

But I remember that that Carmelite community was not like any other. Their lifestyle spoke of kinship with people of all faiths. I had not been there but I could tell they were different, based on my interviews with Carmelites in Metro Manila.

Set on a hill, the Carmelite “convent” in Marawi overlooked the placid Lanao Lake. On silent nights, the view from there, it was said, reminded one of Bethlehem. It must have been easy for the kidnappers to barge into the convent, a Carmelite whom I had interviewed said. Marawi Carmel was not the typical gothic monastery set apart by ivy-covered walls and iron grills. It was a poor Carmel, mostly made of wood. It was decidedly meant to be so.

The Carmelites came to Marawi to be one with everyone. They came not to convert, but to be witnesses to Muslim-Christian brotherhood—or sisterhood, if you may. They got along well with the people there. They were loved. The Muslims would even bring them food, I was told. It was therefore a surprise that a mass abduction should happen.

Mother Mary Madeleine (Mary Ledesma), prioress of Marawi Carmel at that time, was the moving spirit behind the little community of cloistered nuns whose lives consisted mainly of prayer, adoration, fasting and sacrifices, an apostolate which earthly mortals may not easily understand. But even as they preserved the original spirit of Carmel as inspired by St. Teresa of Avila (the founder of the Reformed Discalced Carmelite nuns and monks), their lifestyle in Marawi Carmel was very indigenized and not a copy of Western-style monastic life. (I’ve seen this kind of lifestyle in Carmel in Infanta, Quezon.)

During adoration, the nuns wore malong cloaks, they sang local songs, they adapted to the spirit of the place. They would even fast during Ramadan, in addition to the Carmelite fasts they had to undertake during the year.

They were not the modern-day Agneses of God (of the movies) or the flying nun types who knew little of birds and bees, or the age-old conflict in Mindanao. But little did they know that while in the middle of a nine-day novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, they would suddenly be swept into the eye of the storm.

As reports had it, they were forcibly taken from their convent, which was about two miles from the city, by armed men believed to be members of a lost command of the Moro National Liberation Front. Shortly after the nuns were kidnapped, an American Protestant missionary, Brian Lawrence, was also taken from his quarters at the Mindanao State University. The kidnapping came not too long after the release of the French Catholic priest, Fr. Michel Girord.

They were not to be the last. In the next two decades, there would be more kidnappings of church people, both religious and lay. Some of them resulted in gory deaths that told of extreme cruelty.

Today, many groups and individuals all over the world continue to pray for the safe return of Sinnott. There was a sense of relief when Sinnott’s kidnappers released a video showing him holding an Oct. 22 issue of the Inquirer. “There was a sense of relief to see him at all,” O’Donoghue said. “But I also experienced a tremendous sadness at seeing him in this horrendous situation. I would believe that all of us would know that he did not write the statement of his own volition. Words like ‘indignity of it all’, ‘humiliation’ and ‘exploitation’ sprang in my mind. But I also realized that he has not lost his gentleness which radiated through it all. God’s love is still flowing through him. I am aware that I could be accused of being melodramatic but the image stuck—ecce homo (behold the man). God is in this powerfully.”

O’Donoghue continued: “If the kidnappers were to look at the man they are holding and see him for who he is and not as a means for making money, and in compassion release him immediately, then we would remember them as men of compassion and not as kidnappers. One of the agencies in Rome asked me if I really thought these men were capable of compassion. It was an honest question that deserved an honest answer. I replied that if I were to answer simply from a human point of view, I would have to say, ‘Probably not.’ But I prefer to continue to see this from the horizon of faith. And from that perspective of what is impossible for us is possible for God. God can change hearts, despite our firm resistance.”