Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – Deeply moved by the occasion Christians and Muslims welcomed Fr Giancarlo Bossi back to Payao. The Italian missionary who was held captive for 39 days concelebrated mass with Italian and Filipino priest in St Paul’s Parish Church in Payao, festively decorated for the homecoming event.
Bossi arrived in Payao at 8:45 am where he was initially welcomed by high school and elementary students. The meeting was charged with emotions for the PIME missionary who wanted to greet the faithful who “prayed so much” during his days of captivity “for my release.”
“The activities were intended not only as a welcome for Bossi but also as a celebration of the good relations between the people and local religious groups like Muslims, Christians and Subanen,” said Joenery Ojas, Payao police chief.
When Bossi was kidnapped the entire community came together to pray for him. There was a strong sense of fraternity and collaboration and this has to be reasserted with the grand welcome for the PIME priest, he said.
Police sources confirmed that the kidnappers were members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and that no ransom was paid. They also acknowledged that kidnappers were forced to release the Italian priest because of "unconventional tactics" used by the authorities during negotiations.
Some reports suggest that the police threatened to abduct the family members of the kidnap gang's leader.
When he arrived in Payalo Father Giancarlo was surrounded by his people, exchanging warm greetings and hugs.
At the end of the mass, celebrations moved to food-covered tables, especially spaghetti (Father Giancarlo’s favourite food) and the traditional ‘lechon’, a whole roasted pig.
A parade and peace symposium were also organised to celebrate the return of ‘Father Giant’ or ‘Bigfoot’ as locals affectionately call him.
Bossi reiterated his desire to continue his missionary work in the Philippines, possibly in Payao “among my people” because “that’s the call I am supposed to do, and I am really happy to do this job.”
However, Fr Giancarlo Zanchi, PIME superior general, said that whilst Fr Bossi will certainly be back in Mindanao it is not certain that it will be in Payao.
What is more, PIME is against Father Bossi testifying against his kidnappers as requested by the Filipino Department of Justice.
Fr Gianni Sandalo said that the institute is keeping to the same position held when Fr Luciano Benedetti was abducted in 1998.
He said Benedetti later decided not to pursue the case against his capturers, “because according to Luciano, his capturers were young people, and at that age, they did not know what they were doing.”
Father Sandalo said that his kidnappers were poor fishermen “just following orders from big people and at any [rate], we don't really have [any] idea as to who [was] the mastermind behind his kidnapping.” Now the matter is in the hands of the government.
Religious and intellectual leaders in Zamboanga have made a public appeal for peace and sobriety, including the Archbishop of Zamboanga Romulo G. Valles, Fr Angelo Calvo, Fr Sebastiano D’Ambra, Arsenio L Gonzales Jr and Fr Antonio Moreno SJ.
Whilst expressing happiness for Father Bossi’s release, they expressed their concerns with his abduction and the killing of marines involved in his search, sharing “the grief of the bereaved families”.
Given the situation of great instability in the Basilian area, they urged the “public to remain calm and exercise utmost sobriety so as not to aggravate the situation.”
They dream that pace can be based on a real process of economic and social development.