Columban missionary, Fr Michael Sinnott, 79, was freed at 5am local time today, after a month in captivity - declaring himself in good health and eager to continue his missionary work.
Muslim rebels delivered the 79-year-old to Philippine authorities before dawn, ending a kidnap drama that began on October 11 when six gunmen abducted him from his missionary compound.
A smiling, bearded Fr Michael told reporters at an air force base in Zamboanga city: "I am very fine thank you... I would like to thank everyone who helped to get me free and all my friends who prayed for me while I was in captivity."
Fr Michael, who had a heart operation four years ago, said his abductors had lead him from marshy swamps to jungles and conditions had been very tough.
"They treated me very well, but conditions were very primitive. We were living in the open under a trapal, (tarpaulin)" he said.
Fr Michael said he want to carry on with his missionary work in the area. "I hope I can go back to Pagadian, but I do not know... that has to be discussed with many other people besides myself," he said.
Local military commander Major-General Ben Dolorfino said Fr Michael had been released by a Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). But that group said they had not been responsible for the kidnapping.
He said: "This is a big confidence-building measure in forthcoming peace talks."
The Society of Saint Columban and the Irish government said no ransom had been paid, despite a two million ransom demand.
Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin said: "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 was snatched by six gunmen from the mission' compound in Pagadian on 11 October. After his kidnapping, prayer vigils and Masses were held around the world and parishioners in the Phillippines held street processions calling for his release.
Relatives in Ireland said they were thrilled at the news looking forward to seeing him soon. A niece in Wexford, Aine O'Meara, said: “We're delighted and relieved. We heard just tonight before the news broke publicly and it's just a big relief.”
Fr Donal Hogan, the Irish director of the Missionaries of St Columban, told the BBC he was delighted with the news. "It's a relief for his family, for the Columbans and for all the people who have supported him in Ireland, in Britain and in the US," he said.
"It's just fantastic news - thank God."
Noel Connolly, Regional Director of the Columbans in Australia & New Zealand issued the following response:
Thank you for your prayerful support for Father Michael Sinnott.
Early this morning we heard that he had been released. We still do not have word from Father Pat O'Donoghue, our Director in the Philippines. I believe he is waiting for the Philippine Government to confirm the news. Undoubtedly he is also busy catching up with Mick, providing for his needs, meeting the authorities and celebrating with Mick's Christian and Muslim friends in Pagadian.
What we have heard is that Mick was released through the mediation of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) See
Columban Jim Mulroney's article: www.columban.org.au/index/2009/fr-michael-sinnott/father-sinnott-freed-one-month-after-kidnapping.htmlwww.columban.org.au/index/2009/fr-michael-sinnott/father-sinnott-freed-one-month-after-kidnapping.html and is presently in a clinic in Zamboanga City, Mindanao. I am told that he is in reasonable health given his medical condition and the fact that he was held for thirty two days.
Here in the Columban Mission Centre, Essendon we have been overwhelmed by the messages of interest and prayerful support
from our friends in Australia. Mick seems to be someone who attracts such support. I guess it is his simplicity, integrity and generous involvement in the life of others, especially the handicapped and poor.
For the past month there have been regular prayer rallies and demonstrations by Muslims and Christians asking for his release.
We believe that this has played a significant part in his release. It will also be one of the good things to come out of this ordeal. Thank you once again for your support and prayers.