Ranchi Jesuits

A Province of Society of Jesus in South Asia Assistancy

Jesuit priest killed in Syria

Posted on: 4 Jun, 2019 Modified on: 1 Dec, 2014

By Fr Justin Tirkey, SJ

Rome: 8 April, 2014 Rome: 8 April, 2014 A. Frans van der Lugt,(75) a Dutch Jesuit priest who became a symbol of suffering and compassion in the war-ravaged Syria, was shot to death at monastery in Bustan al-Diwan, a Christian part of the Old City of Homs on Monday morning 7th April, by a lone masked gunman .

The killing came amid growing disputes between Syrian insurgents blockaded in the Old City - those who want to accept an amnesty from the government in exchange for laying down their arms, and those who do not.

Father Francis Van Der Lugt - a Jesuit, the same order as Pope Francis — had lived in Syria for decades and had refused to be evacuated with other civilians from the battleground city of Homs.

The motives for the attack were not known, and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the killing, which took place in Bustan al-Diwan, rebel-held neighborhood of Homs that has been blockaded for over a year by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"Father Frans was killed in the garden of our monastery," Fr. Ziad Hillal, another Jesuit who lived there with the Dutch priest, told Vatican Radio. "They shot him twice in the head. "

According to the governor of Homs Governorate, Talal al-Barazi, he was killed by extremists from the Al-Nusra Front.

In a statement, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi praised Fr. van der Lugt as a "man of peace," who showed great courage in remaining loyal to the Syrian people to whom he dedicated his life and spiritual service, despite an extremely risky and difficult situation-"

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the killing of a Dutch priest in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, calling his shooting death an "inhumane act of violence."

Fr. Frans gained international exposure in the beginning of 2014 when he made a number of YouTube videos asking the international community for help for the citizens of the besieged city. He refused to leave, despite the dangerous situation.

In February, The Economist reported that he was probably the last European in the city and stayed because he was "the shepherd of [his] flock".

Frans van der Lugt, widely known as Pater Frans (10 April 1938 -7 April 2014), was a Jesuit priest from the Netherlands served Syrians for decades.

Van der Lugt, born into a banker's family, was a psychotherapist who left the Netherlands for the Middle East in the 1960s where he joined the Jesuits.
In 1966, after studying Arabic for two years in Lebanon, he went to Syria, where he lived for nearly fifty years.

Van der Lugt started a community farm in 1980, just outside the city, where the work was done by "young people with mental health problems". He spent his last years in Homs, where he worked in the local monastery and cared for the sick and the hungry.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans wrote on his Facebook page that van der Lugt "only brought good to Homs, was a Syrian among Syrians, (who) refused to abandon them even when it meant risking his own life."

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki said the United States is "saddened" by the news of Van Der Lugt's death. She said the priest worked to mitigate the immense suffering in Homs. The spokeswoman also deplored continued threats against Christians in Syria.

Individual deaths are often lost sight of in a war,still, the killing of Father Frans struck a chord, because he chose voluntarily to share the plight of the people who stayed in the Old City.

Father Frans explained his decision to remain in the Old City in an interview published in February on ReliefWeb, a website focusing on humanitarian organizations.

“I don’t see Muslims or Christians, I see, above all, human beings,” he said, who “hunger to lead a normal life.” As the only priest left in the Old City to help the people there with their suffering, he said, “how can I leave? This is impossible.”

An activist based in a blockaded rebel-area said rebel fighters were shocked by the priest's death.

"The man was living with us, eating with us, sleeping with us. He didn't leave, even when the blockade was eased," said Beibars Tilawi said via Skype. Regardless of the rebels' views toward Christians, the priest was well-liked for his efforts to get the blockade lifted and alleviate widespread suffering and hunger among civilians, Tilawi said.

In Belgium, the secretary of the Dutch Jesuit order Father Jan Stuyt said the slain priest had been living in Syria since the mid-1960s and was on good terms with the country's Muslim majority.

"He is a martyr for the interreligious dialogue," Father Jan Stuyt said in a telephone interview with Associated Press in Brussels.

The priest is among the latest victims in the three-year civil war among rebel groups and the Syrian regime. The conflict began when demonstrations sprang up nationwide March 15, 2011, protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader the country's Ba'ath Party.

In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of an estimated 140,000 people.

There are 2.6 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

(Fr. Pater Frans 10 April 1938 -7 April 2014)

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