Columban priest Fr Michael Sinnott (79): 'We are living in the open, in difficult circumstances. I am still in good health even if I do not have the full medicines'

THE release of a video of abducted missionary Fr Michael Sinnott is "extremely good news" and has provided a ray of hope, according to the Columban order in Ireland.

The kidnappers of the Irish priest released a video of their hostage and demanded a $2m (€1.35m) ransom yesterday.

The video, which was obtained by government negotiators and broadcast on GMA television in Manila, showed the 79-year-old holding a copy of a local newspaper, dated 22 October.

In the video, Fr Sinnott, who was kidnapped three weeks ago in the Philippines, appeals to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Irish government and his fellow Columban missionaries and friends "who may have pity... to help so that I can get out of here as soon as possible".

Fr Pat Raleigh, vice-director of the Columbans in Ireland, said that while the order was still concerned for the priest's health and well-being, it was heartened by the release of the video.

"It is extremely good news to see that he is alive and is reasonably well. The Columban fathers do not pay ransoms. It would only give rise to other groups. Fr Sinnott himself would be the last person who would want to see a ransom being paid," he told the Sunday Tribune.

"He has been in captivity for three weeks now. That is a huge amount of time for a person in the prime of their health let alone someone who is 79 years old. We are extremely grateful for the thousands of messages of support we have received from people in Ireland and abroad. I'm sure Fr Sinnott's faith is helping him during this time. Prayers are said every day for his safe release in the Philippines and Ireland."

The priest has access to the vital medication he urgently needs to take for his heart condition.

In the video, Fr Sinnott said his kidnappers are led by commander Abu Jayad.

"They are asking for $2m as ransom money," he said. "We are living in the open, in difficult circumstances. I am still in good health even if I do not have the full medicines."

Fr Sinnott was snatched from his compound on 11 October by six gunmen who broke into the Columban House in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province, 890km south of Manila.

Authorities believe that rogue elements of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are behind the abduction. The MILF, as well as other Muslim-armed gangs and bands of pirates, are known to operate in parts of Lanao del Norte.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said yesterday he spoke to the Sinnott family who were "very relieved" by the evidence that the priest is alive. He added that Irish ambassador to the Philippines Richard O'Brien has held meetings with representatives of the MILF and that "no effort will be spared" to help secure the priest's safe release.