40 days of learning experience Fr. Bossi wish to return to his parish
MANILA, July 21, 2007—Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, now 57 years old and freed late Thursday afternoon by still unidentified armed men after 40 days in captivity in the boondocks of southern Philippines, looks forward to returning to his parish in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay next week “to be with my people.”
He said a parish priest is comparable with a head of a family “who ought to be with his children.”
Speaking exclusively to CBCPNews over the weekend at the Mary Queen of Apostles Parish in the Diocese of Paranaque, Fr. Bossi said his experience deepened his faith. He explained when one is held captive, he has all the time to reflect, meditate and ask questions.
Asked of his routine while in captivity, he said immediately after breakfast of rice and salted fish, he would be “sitting on a hammock or rock because I couldn’t walk in the thick and steep forest and there’s no place to walk so I spent time sitting, talking to them sometimes.”
Recalling his 40-day experience in Lanao del Norte, Fr. Bossi said “everyday we talked and tried to discover who we were.” He added he used to ask them why they were there or whether they were happy and after some days we became close.”
“The first question that came to my mind during the early days of my stay in jungles of Lanao del Norte was are we both praying to the same God because his abductors prayed with automatic weapons to their right and me, their hostage to their left,” the introspective missionary said.
He said he told his captors “If I have to pray thanking God with the armalite on my hand and the prisoner on my side, I would be ashamed to pray.” As a priest, Fr. Bossi said he believes “faith and life are one.” He, however, added his captors believed a gap exists between faith and life.
He admitted he has a big problem how to spend his day in captivity because 40 days is “a long period of time.” He added “I used to get up early in the morning and the first thing I did was pray and sit and watch nature and think how to let time pass.”
By sheer coincidence, it was also 40 days when Christ fasted and prayed in the desert amidst the temptations of the devil.
He said he talked with his captors in Cebuano, a local dialect spoken widely in Central Visayas and different parts of Mindanao. “Whenever my captors talked among themselves, I could sense they were talking in Tausug,” Fr. Bossi said.
“They never said they were frustrated but the admitted they were poor, poor subsistence fishermen,” the 57-year old missionary said. During his captivity, he never saw a policeman or soldier, his captors’ immediate families and even children. He added they sometimes transferred places “but we were never in Basilan” as he explained he was brought to Karumatan, Lanao del Norte.
He said his captors had mobile telephones and the leader “received orders from one they consider their supremo who decides on what to do and what not to do.” He explained the men who held him at bay for 40 days simply followed orders “from someone they didn’t know.”
Fr. Bossi said his abductors admitted they belonged to the group that held fellow Italian missionary Guiseppe Pierantoni from the Sacerdotes Cordis Jesu in 2001.
“I consider myself lucky because I got released in just 40 days,” Fr. Bossi said as he recalled his fellow PIME missionary Luciano Benedetti in 1998 who was held for two months while Fr. Guiseppe Pierantoni was in the armed group’s custody for about four months in 2001.
He said he never had any idea he would be released in 40 days. “My personal idea was that I would be released by August or a bit later,” Fr. Bossi explained.
Asked whether he ever entertained thoughts he would be held hostage just like other missionaries in southern Philippines, Fr. Bossi said he met a fellow foreign missionary from Marawi City who was kidnapped twice some years ago and said “I would like to experience being kidnapped and the missionary’s reaction was ‘never be kidnapped because it’s quite hard to be kidnapped.’”
He added he never feared for his life as he was always in high spirits and a jolly person. He said he was “kidnapped for something and that something was money.” However, he said he didn’t know if ransom was paid for his release.
He said his release was providential as it was on his mother’s 87th birthday. “That Thursday night, I requested police officials to allow me to call my mother and greet her on her birthday,” Fr. Bossi said.
He has plans to return to Italy next month to visit his mother, siblings and those who did conduct prayer vigils and periodically called on their government to get him out of danger.
“Next month, the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission’s general superior will visit Manila by the first week of August for our congregation’s assembly and I will join him back to Italy for a brief visit,” Fr. Bossi said.
Asked if his congregation may review and revise programs in sending missionaries to the boondocks of southern Philippines and other “dangerous areas,” Fr. Bossi said he believes “I think if we abandon certain places in the frontiers for safer places, we all better go back to Italy where we also lack priests.”
He added “if our job is for certain kind of people or some kind of situation even though it would be dangerous, it may still be worthy to stay here.”
Asked of what he learned from his abductors, he said “ in spite of everything, they are still my brothers for at night I pray for them and if they kidnap me again, I would still pray for them as there’s no bitterness in my heart whatsoever.”
He concluded “when we pray the ‘Our Father,’ we are all His sons we are all brothers and sisters.” (Melo M. Acuna)
(Video interview with Fr. Bossi maybe viewed at www.youtube.com/cbcpmedia)