A 78-year-old Irish Catholic priest was kidnapped in the Philippines on Sunday.

Six heavily armed men burst into the Columban House, a Catholic convent in Pagadian city, and dragged Fr. Michael Sinnott into a van in front of his fellow missionaries, according to regional police commander Chief Supt. Angelo Sunglao. Sinnott had been taking an evening stroll in the convent’s gardens.

The gunmen then took the priest away in a motor boat toward a town called Tukuran, say fishermen who witnessed the abduction.

"They could not do anything because the abductors had powerful weapons," Sunglao told The Associated Press.

The van was later found burnt out and abandoned near the convent.

The police are currently in pursuit of the kidnappers in order to rescue Sinnott, and the priest’s group, the Missionary Society of St. Columban, are praying for his safe release. Sinnott, who works with a school for handicapped children, has worked in the Philippines for decades, first arriving in the area in 1957.

It has not yet been confirmed who is responsible for the kidnapping, but some suspect it was Muslim guerrillas, who have been battling for a separate homeland in the southern region of the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

Priests in the region have been kidnapped in the past. Most recently, an Italian priest was abducted by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2007, though the group has denied any involvement in kidnappings.

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