The former priest was moved this morning from Zamboanga to Manila. “We hope that he will get better soon, because we were told that he was not doing well,” said Fr Giovanni Re, regional superior of the Philippines. From the start, “we were cautiously optimistic.” Yesterday, Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra tried to visit him; “Unfortunately, they did not let us in.”
Manila (AsiaNews) – A former PIME missionary was found yesterday on Sulu Island (southern Philippines), a stronghold of the Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf.
Fr Giovanni Re, PIME regional superior in the Philippines, reacted to the news saying, “We are very happy for the release of Rolando del Torchio. We hope that he will get better soon, because we were told that he was not doing well.
After his release, Del Torchio was taken to a military hospital in Zamboanga, and this morning he was flown to Manila on plane chartered by the Italian Embassy.
Del Torchio was abducted on 6 October 2015 at the ‘Ur Choice Café’, a restaurant he owns in Dipolog City, Mindanao, an area where various Islamic separatist groups operate.
It is unclear whether a ransom was paid or even if Islamic extremists were involved.
"From the beginning, we got the impression that he was a kidnapping for ransom,” Fr Re said. “For this reason, we were cautiously optimistic. However, in such cases one never knows how long things will take.”
“I know about other people who have been in the hands of kidnappers for more than two years. Del Torchio was held ‘only’ for six months. I think that the Italian Embassy and Foreign Ministry did a good job through their contacts with local intelligence."
During the months of captivity, "we kept ourselves informed constantly, calling the embassy. They always told us that there were no developments, but a couple of months ago we were assured that he was alive and well."
Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra is a PIME missionary in Zamboanga. Yesterday, as Del Torchio lay in the military hospital in his city, he tried to visit him.
"Unfortunately, they did not let us in. There were plenty of journalists outside and we were told that he needed time to regain his strength because he was very thin and, I believe, still in shock.”
“As for his release, there is little information. Police declined to give details, and we do not know for sure who kidnapped him and if a ransom was paid. "
Rolando Del Torchio, 57, is a native of Angera (Varese). He joined PIME in 1984. After working in Naples for a few years, he was sent to the Philippines, to Sebuco, in Mindanao, near the area where he was kidnapped. As a missionary, he worked hard to defend the rights of farmers and tribals against landowners, often risking his life.
In 2001, he asked to live outside the Institute, still in Zamboanga del Norte. The following year he left the priesthood for personal reasons.
The Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions has been present in Mindanao since 1970s. In 2011, Fr Fausto Tentorio, a former colleague of Rolando Del Torchio, was killed.