Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – The Philippine bishops today launched an appeal for the release of Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (Pime) kidnapped yesterday in the southern island chain of Mindanao as he was on his way to celebrate mass. At the same time, the principal suspects in the case, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf), have denied all involvement and have expressed their complete cooperation in investigations.
Spokesperson for the Philippines Bishops Conference Msgr. Pedro C. Quitorio, said: “We implore the abductors: please, save the missionary. We pray that he will be released as soon as possible, so he can return to lending his help to our people”.
An appeal for his release was also made by the Pope: Benedict XVI, following the Angelus prayer recalled “the many mane people, among them Catholic priests, who are being held hostage for diverse reasons across the world” and he made “an urgent appeal” to the authors “of these disgraceful acts that they become aware of the hurt they cause and that they restore prisoners to the embrace of their families”.
Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, yellow priest of Fr. Bossi and president of the Silsilah movement for interreligious dialogue, says he has been shocked by news of the kidnapping: “we are trying to come to grips with the situation, why it happened to one of the pioneers of the Pime mission on Mindanao Island”. President of Peace Advocates Zamboanga, Claretian priest Fr. Angel Calvo described Bossi as a “priest who loves to stay and work together with the poor farmers. He wants to immerse himself more with the people and the community”. The same image was depicted by Fr. Jasulga, administrator of the apostolic prelature of Ipil, where the Pime missionary “had voluntarily returned, with great joy to work with the poor. He had received no threats and was loved by the local people”.
The police and Philippine Army have intensified their search for the missionary. Police provincial director Senior Superintendent Francisco Cristobal said they have yet to receive any demands or condition from the kidnappers underlining that a veritable “man hunt” is currently underway. Military forces have set up road checkpoints around the province. Police identified one of the suspects as Waning Abdulsalam, brother of MILF leader Akiddin. On the other hand, the separatist’s movement denied its role in kidnapping, according to the spokesperson, “none of their soldiers are involved”.
Eid Kabalu MILF spokesperson, explains: “We will not allow to ruin the gains we have in the peace process with the government. We have already deployed forces on the lookout for the kidnappers of Fr. Bossi”. Kabalu condemned Bossi’s kidnapping as “un-Islamic”, adding that that Abdulsalam’s group has long ceased to obey the MILF command structure. “That group is not MILF. We express our readiness to extend whatever assistance we can give to the Philippine authorities”.
The leader of the kidnappers “was once an MNLF member, but when the organization had a peace agreement with Manila. That is why authorities concluded that we were involved, even though we have nothing to gain from kidnapping the priest”.