December 31, 2009

The Christmas Shuffle

We arrived back in Chile unmentionably early on the 16th. David got smart and decided to black out Joshua's windows with blankets, hoping to trick him into sleeping longer. His plan unfolded flawlessly and we awoke at 2pm, a well-rested and happy-to-be-home family. We quickly realized that there was no food nor Christmas cheer in the house, and we only had one week to prepare. So, we spent the week before Christmas buying a tree, making paper stockings, baking and listening to carols in an attempt to make it "feel" like Christmas. We especially wanted to make it nice this year for Anna's sister Joanna, who was spending her very first Christmas away from home and with us. Plus, Joshua actually seeming to picking up that something different was floating in the air.

We gifted banana bread and cut out cookies this year, making sure to add a diabetic version of both. (Based on no factual statistics, we would guess that Chile has the highest rate of diabetes of any country.) We really enjoyed taking the plates of treats to our neighbors' houses, which gave us a great excuse to visit and see how things were going with each one. We were reminded that the best mission work is done just by being a friend and visiting wit
h families. We wished that we had taken more time to talk with each one throughout the year, and focused less on meetings, activities and administration. Perhaps a New Year's resolution in the making...

We attended "midnight" mass at 9pm. With a shortage of priests and four communities to serve, not every chapel can have a mass at midnight. After mass, we shared hot chocolate and "pan de pascua," a type of fruitcake, with the community. We then had Christmas eve dinner at a neighbor's house. This family is originally from Ecuador and understood
what it's like to be far from home during the holidays. Joshua loved playing with their two 6 year old cousins and rearranging their furniture, a hobby that he's picked up recently. Santa Claus arrives at midnight in Chile and the children open their presents after dinner, then run to the streets to play with their new toys. We walked home around 1 am to a chorus of laughing children and fire crackers. We decided to wait until morning for our presents.

On Christmas morning, we awoke to find that Santa had not passed us by, although we did fear finding coal in a couple of stockings. Joshua smiled and giggled at each new gift and absolutely loved every. single. one. Including the socks and undershirts. We did, however, find our gift to him, a picture Bible, still wrapped in the trash can, two days later. Apparently, he thought it was really fun to throw wrapping paper into the can, and the fact that the paper was concealing a gift didn't really matter that much to him.

We continued celebrating until just recently, when we realized that yet another holiday is upon us. We are now preparing for New Year's, where we'll spend the night celebrating with another neighbor family. We'll let you know how Joshua likes staying up past midnight and eating a bunch of junk food yet again.

December 13, 2009

Joshua's Stateside Debut

We've been missing lately because we've been travelling. David's younger brother Mark got married last weekend, giving us a great reason to bring Joshua on his first trip out of the country to meet the rest of his family. We were also able to spend Thanksgiving with Anna's family. Joshua loved playing with all of his cousins and being the center of attention. Here are a couple of photos from the big event:

November 13, 2009

Sandwiches and Theology

We received this article in our email today and thought it was funny. Fr. Sinnott explains how he spent his time during captivity and it was not the way one might imagine...


Freed Irish priest 'treated well by Muslim kidnappers'

The Irish Roman Catholic priest abducted in the Philippines was treated well by his Muslim kidnappers and even had religious debates with them, he has said.

By Barney Henderson in Kuala Lumpur
Published: 4:48PM GMT 12 Nov 2009

Michael Sinnott: Freed Irish priest 'treated well by Muslim kidnappers'
Michael Sinnott: Rev Sinnott, a Columban Missionary, stated that he was sure his captors were not part of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Photo: AP

Rev Michael Sinnott was freed in the early hours of Thursday morning. He said he was not harmed by his captors but was now "extremely exhausted".

"For long periods of time we had nothing at all to do, so we sat around in the hammocks and talked at length about religion," said Rev Sinnott, who was abducted on October 11 while taking a walk in his garden.

"We discussed ideology and they explained to me what they believed and I then explained what I believed. There were no problems and they treated me very well despite the difficult conditions.

"It soon emerged they wanted money and they also said they wanted to get their message out in the international press. I think they were nomads from Mindanao (a group seeking land rights)."

The kidnappers' $2 million ransom demand was apparently not paid by either the Philippine or Irish governments.

Rev Sinnott, a Columban Missionary, stated that he was sure his captors were not part of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – the Muslim secessionist group suspected by Philippine authorities of being behind the kidnap.

"I don't know who they were but it was not the M-I-L-F. We were very sure of that," he said.

Rev Sinnott, originally from Wexford, said his captors could not have made the conditions any better, that they were well organised and fed him sandwiches "ordered specially".

Despite the ordeal and the heart condition he suffers that led friends and family to fear he would die in captivity, Rev Sinnott said he has no plans to stop his work as a missionary.

"My work is in Pagadian. If I can, I will go back there, of course, because that is where I am needed. I hope to carry on working for another few years at least" he said.

He joked that "because I am a bit old and I found hiking a bit difficult at times, I think that they'd be glad to kidnap a younger man next time".

Rev Sinnott's release came hours before the arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Manila.

November 12, 2009

Fr. Michael Sinnott Freed

Yesterday afternoon, Fr. Michael Sinnott was finally freed. We're all very thankful to have our prayers answered and to reach a peaceful end to this ordeal. Here's an article from the CNN website on his release: Irish Priest Freed. Thank you to all who have been joining us in prayer during the last month.

October 28, 2009

Day of Prayer and Fasting

Today, the Columban community was called together in a special day of prayer and fasting for Fr. Mick Sinnott. We met with our priest coworkers in the chapel "San Columbano" for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It was a special time and we hope that Fr. Sinnott can feel the presence of God wherever he is, and also that he can feel the presence of his friends around the world who are praying for his safety. For those of you interested in joining us, we've printed a prayer below that you can say at home. The original is in Spanish, and an English version follows.

Oración para la liberación del padre Michael Sinnott

(Ministerio de Campo del colegio San Columbano - Ciudad de Pagadian)

En tiempos de sombras y preocupaciones,
te pedimos, Señor,
que mantengas al Padre Mick Sinnott libre de daños.
Guíalo en cada minuto de su camino
y en cada minuto de su viaje.
Que en la luz de la mañana, oh Dios,
pueda tener siempre una visión de tu imagen
en lo profundo de su ser,
que los hilos de la gloria se tejan en su conciencia.
Que él vea el misterio del amor modelado en tu imagen,
más profundo que el saber, más duradero que el tiempo.
También oramos por los secuestradores.
Despierta la semilla de tu bondad divina en sus corazones.
Hazles comprender que el dolor que pueden causar al P. Mick
es también un dolor que causan a la humanidad.
Hazlos compasivo a las necesidades de P. Mick
y que le den su pronta liberación.
Te lo pedimos por Cristo nuestro Señor. Amén.

P. Michael Sinnott es un sacerdote Columbano de 79 años que fue secuestrado el Domingo, 11 de Octubre, 2009 en la Casa Columbana de Pagadian (Mindanao - Filipinas) por hombres armados cuando hacía su caminata por el jardín.


Prayer for the liberation of Fr. Michael Sinnott

In times of shadows and worries,
we ask you Lord,
that you keep Fr. Mick Sinnott free from harm.
Guide him in every minute of his path
and in every moment of his voyage.
That in the light of day, oh God,
he is always able to have a vision of your image
in the deepest part of his being,
that the threads of glory knit themselves in his conscience.
That he sees the mystery of love modeled in your image,
deeper than knowing, more lasting than time.
We also pray for the kidnappers.
Wake up the seed of your divine kindness in their hearts.
Help them to understand that the pain that they cause Fr. Mick is also pain that they cause humanity.
Make them compassionate to the needs of Fr. Mick
and may they quickly set him free.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr. Michael Sinnot is a 79 year old Columban priest who was kidnapped by armed men on Sunday, October 11, 2009 from the Columban house in Pagadian (Mindanao - Philippinnes) while he was walking in the garden.

October 27, 2009

16 Days in Captivity

This is a translation of the testimony given by Karleen B. La Fuente at the Prayer Rally held in Pagadian City on Oct 24, 2009. Karleen is a beneficiary of Hangop Kabataan founded by Fr. Mick Sinnott who was abducted October 11, 2009 in his Columban House in Pagadian City. (The original version is written in the Visayan language.)

My name is Karleen B. La Fuente. I am 14 years old and am a second year high school student and one of the beneficiaries of Hangop Kabataan Foundation founded and headed by Father Mick Sinnott.

I was born a Special Child. My two legs are deformed. From one year old until I reached five, I’m using my knees in order to walk. I was so glad to be enrolled in Hangop Kabataan Foundation. My classmates who are deaf are the ones who will carry me from our house to our school bus, and carry me again until we reached our room. They brought me home after class.

They do that each time my sister, who is also my caretaker, is not available.

I am very very thankful to Fr. Mick Sinnott. If not for him – maybe until now – I still would be walking on my knees. It was Fr. Mick who facilitated my Medical check-up in an Orthopedic Center in Davao City. He wanted me to have artificial legs or prosthesis. The doctors’ recommended having an orthopedic operation to gain equal height for my legs. Fr. Mick unreservedly agreed with the advice and immediately, together with the staff of the foundation, facilitated again for the expenses of operation on my legs. For three months, I stayed at Davao General Hospital and another three months at Davao Jubilee Rehabilitation Hospital who made my prosthesis or my artificial legs.

Fr. Mick helped me without condition and without reservation, so that now I can almost walk normally wearing my artificial legs. As I grow older, my prosthesis has to be re-adjusted and repaired, and as always, Fr. Mick is always at my side, helping me with whatever is needed. My thankfulness to Fr. Mick is very immense. I am very very thankful to Fr. Mick for helping me throughout until now.

And now, from my heart, I beg those who took Fr. Mick Sinnott – please, please have mercy on him. Have mercy on the Special Children, the deaf, the mute, the mentally and physically challenged children under his care – we are hoping that he will come back home to us. Please free Fr. Mick because we love him so much – especially because Fr. Mick is not in good health. Please have mercy on him and have mercy on us, we need him so much! Would there still be somebody like Fr. Mick Sinnott who would love and care for us Special Children? Please, I beg again, have mercy on us, free Fr. Mick Sinnott.

October 18, 2009

Family Week

The Catholic Church here has "Family Week" every year in October. They send out pamphlets to all the parishes that include daily prayers and reflections for families to share each day of the week. It's a nice way to reconnect and get to know your loved ones even better. Our little family here decided to share in the custom and we had our first reflection night yesterday. We shared on the theme "Nuestra Historia de Fe" or "Our Faith History." We all shared the experience of first learning about God from our parents. David heard about Noah's Ark and other interesting Bible stories from an early age. Anna and her sister (Joanna) remember going to sleep at night, with their mom at their side, reciting prayers and asking God to bless and protect their loved ones. It was in these small moments that our faith began to develop. We hope that we instill the same simple, strong love of God in our families that our parents did for us. Thanks Mom and Dad for sharing God with us so early on.

October 16, 2009

Fr. Michael Sinnott

I've reprinted an article here from Fr. Shay Cullen, who worked with Fr. Sinnott in the Philippines. It talks a little about the kind of work he has been involved in. Please continue to pray for his safe return. So far, the Columbans have not been contacted by the kidnappers and do not know who is responsible.

The Abduction of Father Michael Sinnott
(Fr. Shay's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

Father Michael is a true dedicated self-sacrificing missionary. This is an appeal to all people concerned with the kidnapping of Father Michael Sinnott, my former professor at the Columban Seminary in Navan, Ireland and co-missionary here in the Philippines to pray for his safe release and return to his mission and the people he served for so many years.

He was taken as hostage by four men as he took an evening stroll in the garden of the Columban Missionary House in Pagadian last Sunday, 11th October 2009. Four men barged in, grabbed him and bundled him into a van that was outside the gates. Later it was found burnt and Father Michael was seen being taken away in a boat across the bay. No one has taken responsibility for the abduction.

Father Michael has a heart condition and needs his daily medication. At his age, 78, he will be greatly challenged by this terrible ordeal. We appeal to the people who abducted him to respect his dignity and medical condition, treat him with kindness and not harshly, and provide him with his medication. There is a wide search going on all across Northern Mindanao as I write this and we can only hope and pray he will be released unharmed. The outpouring of love and respect for him by the people all over the Philippines is overwhelming.

He is a totally committed missionary, a man of the people of the Philippines and especially those of the Pagadian area in North Mindanao. He has given his life faithfully and without complaint for over 45 years to the people of all faiths without distinction or discrimination, but with a love that has been shared equally to all.

He gave himself as a missionary to uplift the poor to work for justice and change this world to better the lives of the poor and to save the children from abuse and exploitation. He has a home for children with special needs that need him to return safely. In this apostolate, working for human rights and the dignity of the person, we can only hope that his rights and dignity will be respected too. Michael never hesitated to help anyone, least of all the victims of neglect and abuse.

So too the poor, deprived, abused and those crying for justice, he has a heart for them all. He has been their hope and pastor. He is a quite and gently spoken man but his words have always been wise and inspiring and encouraging to those struggling for justice and equality. He is an advocate of peace and non-violence and has been working for social reconciliation for all of his Missionary life.

He is a symbol of all that is good and decent in this world, but now he is taken as a hostage. Columban and many thousands of Missionaries, men and women, ordained and laity have given their lives over the past centuries to make real a new way of living together - the Kingdom of justice and love, truth and equality, respect and freedom. We pray and hope and plea that he will not be harmed. We appeal that his captors will respect his life's dedication and commitment to the dignity and rights of the Muslim and Christian people alike. I appeal to the authorities to do nothing violent if he is located with his captors but to negotiate a peaceful release and return.

These are the hazards and challenges that we missionaries face in this difficult and challenging life. In difficult missions, in order to serve the most needy the sick and the oppressed, we have to face the threats of people who oppose the work for justice and freedom. Being a missionary is the most challenging call these days. We all know here that we could face the same danger and ordeal and have to accept it with fortitude and strength of mind and heart and trust in God. The Gospel is the path to a more meaningful life, to care and help others without reward is the heart of it. Father Michael worked for such a world and may he come through this hardship and continue his life of service to those in greatest need. END

Visit for more related articles.

October 13, 2009

Prayer Urgently Needed!

An 80 year old Columban priest was recently kidnapped in the Philipines. Please pray for his safe return home. We've attached an article here that is from the Columban Mission Newsletter in the US.

October 12, 2009
Fr. Michael Sinnott Kidnapped in the Philippines

Columban Father Michael Sinnott was kidnapped October 11, 2009 around 7:30 p.m. (local time) from outside his home in Pagadian City, Province of Zamboanga del Sur, Mindanao, as he was taking an evening stroll in the garden.

As Church workers were closing the gate to the compound in the Columban house in Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur, on October 11 2009, a man pushed his way through saying he wanted to talk to a priest. Then three or four heavily armed men appeared, forcing the gate and dragging 79-year-old Irish Columban Father Michael Sinnott from the garden into a white pickup truck, before speeding off.

The vehicle was later found abandoned and torched in the nearby beachside area of Santa Lucia. Fishermen told police that they saw the group boarding a small motor boat heading off in the direction of the town of Tukuran.

A statement from the regional director for the Columbans in Manila, Father Pat O’Donoghue, said that police and other law enforcement agencies had been called. Patrol boats were mobilized, but found nothing.

Father O’Donoghue said that no motive has been given for the kidnapping and, as of 11:00p.m. on October 11, there had been no contact. He added that he is worried for the safety of the aging priest, as he underwent quadruple bypass surgery in Cebu in 2005 and has been under medication ever since. “One of my greatest concerns for him is that he does not have his medication with him, which he needs,” he disclosed.

Father Sinnott was ordained on December 21, 1954, after studies in Ireland and the United States.
Father Sinnott has worked in Mindanao since he arrived in The Philippines in 1957, except for a period in Ireland as rector of the Columban seminary, a short stint studying liturgy in Paris, and a few years in Manila as the vice director of the Philippine region.

Father O’Donoghue is asking people to pray for his safe return.

September 21, 2009

Happy Birthday Chile

The 18th of September was Chile's 199th birthday. In our chapel, we decided to celebrate big, with a traditional fonda or carnival type of party. We had all the fixings for a fun family day -traditional dancing, foods and lots of games, including rayuela, a game typically played in the country, sort of like horseshoes. The only thing missing was chicha and red wine. It's almost unheard of to have a fonda with no alcohol, but the community decided that in order to make it truly family friendly, they could do without the drinking and fighting that often overrun independence day parties these days.

Fondas are traditionally decorated with large palms.

Fr. Mike Howe, the Columban priest in charge of the chapel starts us off with a blessing.

The teenagers ran the games. They worked hard the whole six hours without taking a break.

Chile's national dance, the Cueca, performed by local school children.

The kids also showed us a traditional Mapuche dance, from the south of Chile.

Meat, meat, meat! Chileans are not inclined to vegetarianism.

The northern version of the cueca.

Anna's sister is here visiting until March, and dressed up for her first Dieciocho celebration.

The rayuela competition was a big hit... David almost won.

It was great to see so many families participating, including dads.

The guitar is the unofficial national instrument. No party is complete without a song.

Our gringo Chilean family portrait.

Unfortunately, the fun was interrupted by a fire in the neighborhod. Two families lost their homes. Please keep them in your prayers.

September 15, 2009

Joshua's First Home

Last weekend, we took our teenagers out to do a service project. This was a pretty new experience for them, since they are used to being on the receiving end of other people's service projects. We live in a notoriously poor area and whenever another youth group asks themselves, "What can we do to help the poor?" they often end up doing food drives, clothing drives or setting up a Christmas party for the less fortunate... us! We believe it is very important for all children and teens (even the economically poor ones) to learn how to help others, using the gifts that God has given them.

So, we went to an orphanage and played with babies. The teens originally wanted to collect money and toys to donate, but quickly realized they had no money to give. Then, they said that they wanted to paint faces and do magic, soon discovering that none of them had any artistic or theatrical talent. So, they grabbed a ball and decided to play soccer. THAT was a task that they were well prepared for. We showed up to the orphanage at 11 am and were met with three smiling faces peeking out the front door. ¿Tenemos visitas? they eagerly asked. Do we have visitors? We walked in and discovered about fifteen more munchkins varying between ages 2 and 5. There were also about 5 sleeping babies that we didn't notice until later, the youngest just 6 days old and weighing 5 lbs... FIVE POUNDS!! We had never held a baby so tiny in our lives. It reminded us of little Joshua. He was just 6 lbs when born and came to that exact same orphanage when he was just days old. Perhaps there was another volunteer group that came and held him in their arms, marvelling over his tininess?

The children were disappointed when we walked in with empty arms, because they are used to being showered with gifts by visiting groups. But, the disappointment soon melted away as they began singing songs, playing soccer or just simply being held and loved by another person. When it was time to go just a couple short hours later, the teens were physically worn out, but deeply touched by the experience. They learned so much more from the experience than we could have taught them through lectures. On the walk home, questions bubbled to the surface... Why are those kids there? Where are their parents? Why can't they go outside to play? Can we come back?

Due to the abusive family backgrounds of many of the children, we were unable to take pictures. You'll just have to imagine 15 toddlers 8 teenagers and 1 extremely wound up Joshua running around like nuts.

September 9, 2009

Why Mission?

We came across an interesting reflection on today's Bible readings. We're sharing it with you because we think it explains very well the reasons that we are over here on mission.

video reflection

(We couldn't figure out how to embed it, so you'll have to follow the link and then click on "September 9th" on the little calendar below.)

August 27, 2009

In Memorium

Well, it finally happened. After almost five years of living in Chile, we've been robbed. The culprit jumped our fence in broad daylight, creating lots of ruckus (which Anna heard and immediately ignored for no apparent reason) then snatched two of our most treasured clothing items off the line. We may never see Anna's blue track suit jacket or David's red hooded sweatshirt again, but we hope they're keeping some thief as warm as they have kept us...

August 24, 2009

Why us? Why not him?

The other night, we were chatting with one of the teens from the youth group. He casually mentioned that he usually wakes up for school around 6:30 a.m. and showers in cold water so that he doesn't "annoy the other kids with stinkiness." Just so you understand the coldness of the water here, last week the average temperature at this time in the morning was about 57 degrees Fahrenheit. We sat in guilty silence, because we knew that his family couldn't afford gas to heat water. Most families around here only use gas for cooking, or not at all. Hot showers are a luxury only enjoyed by the upper classes. Our guilt arose from the fact that we can afford gas not only for cooking, but also for hot showers and a gas grill. In fact, there is a common fight that goes on in our house...

We happen to own three gas tanks. We usually only have one tank filled though, causing the annoyance of switching the tank back and forth between the stove and water heater. Every morning, one person must wait while the other one showers before they are able to heat water for coffee or cooking. It would be overly embarrassing to tell you the amount of time we spend yelling at each other because we are forced to wait ten extra minutes for use of the gas. And don't even bring up the idea of taking a cold shower, because THAT would surely be grounds for divorce.

So we sat in guilty silence because we recognized that we were born into privilege unknown to this 16 year old kid. We grew up with hot showers, air condition, a swimming pool and cable television. And we don't deserve it any more than he does.

August 12, 2009

Art Attack

On Sunday afternoons, I (Anna) spend my time with the kids from the neighborhood making art projects, which I shamelessly steal directly from the t.v. show "Art Attack." (I find them here, if you would also like to have fun.) The workshop came to be partly because I like children, but mainly because I love making all of the cool art myself. Here are some of the kids' "art attacks" from the last few weeks:

July 30, 2009

Toilets in the Desert

It was odd the first time we discovered a toilet in the middle of the desert. Strangely, it has become a rather common find. These are the remnants of the squatter communities left behind, as people moved on into more respectable housing, with help from the Chilean government. For us, this scene speaks to our hearts of a disharmony between a man-made and natural world, of the consequences of a "developing" nation and most importantly, our relationship as humans with our Creator.

July 15, 2009

La Tirana

It's Tirana time in northern Chile... and oh, what a time it is. "La Tirana" is actually the name of a local village where a large religious festival takes place each year in celebration of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The big draw is that tons (as in hundreds) of dance groups come into this tiny little town, complete with ornate costumes, and dance in honor of the Virgin for ten days (NON-stop). It's controversial, even among Catholics, due to the non-Christian beginnings of the festival, its commercialization and the confusion between honoring and worshiping saints. Both sides have some really valid points, but we personally lean more towards loving it. It's a lot of fun, the dancing and the colors are enlivening and peoples' faith in God seems to grow and flourish throughout the festivities. Some images from last year:

Sadly, the festival was officially cancelled this year due to the swine flu, but a much smaller version is taking place throughout Iquique and Alto Hospicio. Our parish has the privilege of hosting all of Alto Hospicio in the mini-festivities. So, we'll get up pictures and commentaries later on this week.

July 11, 2009

Please Help

While looking for information on adoption on the internet just a year and a half ago, we came across a woman here in Chile with a special family. She and her husband are missionaries from the US who adopted their three kids. We emailed them asking for advice and were very encouraged by their response, which basically told us the chances were very good that we would be able to adopt here in Iquique. Their email gave us the push we needed to start the process that ended in bringing home Joshua. Now, her sister needs help raising money in order to adopt a child from Taiwan. You can help by clicking here, where you can order a cookbook to help them raise money, or make a donation to their cause. They are just $2000 away! Please be generous and help them bring a child home to a loving family.

July 5, 2009

Gone But Not Forgotten

We had a couple of special visitors last month that didn't get mentioned much on the blog. We were too busy running around having fun. Joshua's Aunt Joanna and his cousin Brittany came to meet him. Some highlights:

We quickly took advantage and put them to work.

Guess who got Batman pajamas for his birthday?

... AND bunny slippers!

We had some fresh squeezed mango and guayaba juice with our friend Sponge Bob.

David discovered that, yes, the rocks are made of salt.

Joshua drove a train.

We made the mandatory trek up the hill behind our house.

We visited the Pacific Ocean.

Joanna showed us how to take nice pictures.

And Joshua wooed some girls while swimming down at the hot springs in Pica.

Good times were had by all.