Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – “I want to return to Payao to greet my people, tell them that I am well and above all embrace the children again. My heart is and will remain in Payao. They say that a priest must also be a father and so as the father of my community it is my duty to return to my people, to my children”. Fr Giancarlo Bossi dries his tears as he tells of the difficult days of his captivity: his abductors kept him under constant armed surveillance as they sought to evade strict police controls. During his first press conference Fr. Bossi wore a simple black robe and spoke haltingly, deeply moved, about his period of sequester by abductors who claimed to “belong to the fundamentalist militants of Abu Sayyaf”.
Speaking alternatively in English and the local dialect, the Italian Missionary confirmed that the kidnappers “treated him well” despite moving constantly to evade military troops. He was fed rice and salt, dried fish. “I had a problem with the food, that's the reason why I lost a lot of weight, 15kg. But never mind, I will have a chance to increase my weight again.” He confirmed that he was moved within Lanao, without clarifying if it was in the North or South of the province. In order to keep up with his abductors he, a self confessed chain smoker, was forced to give up cigarettes: “One night while we were walking, we have to climb a mountain and my breathing was heavy: I told myself if I want to survive, I have to keep my breathing. Better stop smoking and I stopped smoking”.
Fr. Bossi says he is not afraid and adds that if his superiors “permit him” he will certainly “return to Payao: as soon as possible I will be among my people again”. Answering a journalists question as to what he would like to do most now, he said “As a free man, I can enjoy life again” and “go around and meet people again, it was a very incredible experience”. He also recalled how he felt when told about the 14 Marines in Basilan who died when their unit was ambushed as they returned form a mission to check reported sightings of the Italian priest. “I felt so sorry,” Bossi said. “In a way, I feel responsible for their deaths.”
He said his typical day as a hostage was waking up in the morning at about 4:30 or 5 a.m., then moving out to arrive at their next bivouac at around 7 p.m. “and try to go to sleep. During the day it was very difficult to sleep because in the forest “there are many mosquitoes”. All the while, he said, he was “just thinking, just praying, just thinking of all my friends and my family, what is going on, the mind always working just to keep me alive”. This morning he finally tasted a plate of pasta and was also given bread and a cup of coffee. At one point during the press conference, he tried to mention some of the names of his kidnappers but was cut off: the names would have to be kept confidential for the meantime as operations are being conducted against the priest's abductors. It has yet to be ascertained whether they belonged to Abu Sayyaf or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), while the hypothesis of a ransom payment has been quashed.
In the meantime messages of joy at Fr Bossi’s release have multiplied. The general secretary of the Italian Bishops Conference, Msgr. Giuseppe Betori, writes that “the Italian bishops express profound gratitude to all those who worked and prayed in these weeks of the release of Fr. Giancarlo. In this moment of great relief, we are close to his family and his religious community, after weeks of worry and tension. In this happy circumstance we would like to highlight the silent work of the many missionaries world over who – like Fr. Giancarlo, are witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even at the risk of their own lives”.
Joy was also expressed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), who in an official press statement thanks all those who collaborated in the missionary’s release. “We welcome with joy and gratitude the release of the missionary, Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, by his abductors – writes CBCP president Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro - for many weeks, in behalf of his relatives and community, many people prayed and appealed for mercy and compassion for Fr. Bossi,”. “Foreign missionaries are giving a great service to the people in far-flung corners of the country – continues the statement - especially in Mindanao, at great sacrifice and even dangers. We hope that what had happened to Fr. Bossi will not happen again”.