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Sorrow at murder of last priest in Homs

By Susan Gately - 13 April, 2014

Fr Frans van der Lugt

Fr Frans van der Lugt

Fr Frans van der Lugt, who was murdered last Monday 7 April, was the last priest in Homs’s Old City which has been besieged by Syrian government forces for nearly two years. 

The Dutch Jesuit vowed to stay there as long as there was one Christian remaining in the city, even though he knew it was dangerous. 

The Christian population in the area, which was almost 70,000 before the troubles erupted in 2011, had dropped to less than seventy, according to Italian Religious, Sr Giovanna Maria, who lived in the region for twelve years. 

“A month ago there were only about sixty Christians living in Homs and he was the only priest left to do burials, but he said that as long as there was one Christian in the region, he would stay on,” she said.

Sr Giovanna Maria said Fr Frans was a reserved, practical person. 

“I remember him as a man of few words. He always did everything to help the Syrians, valuing the beauty of this people,” the nun who is currently visiting Ireland told CatholicIreland.net. 

Fr Frans was a psychologist. There were few people from this background in this region of Syria, and the Jesuit was happy to help people and to share his professional knowledge.

On Monday last, the secretary of the Dutch Jesuits confirmed that Fr Frans had been killed. 

“A man came into his house, took him outside and shot him twice in the head,” said Jan Stuyt. The assassination happened in the street in front of his house.

Fr Van der Lugt spent nearly five decades in Syria, saying in an interview in February that he considered the country to be his home. 

“I am the head of a monastery. How could I leave? Can I leave Christians after me. It is impossible. The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties,” he said.

On Wednesday (9 April 2014), Pope Francis referred to his Jesuit ‘confrere’ at his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square. 

Fr Frans saying Mass for the Christian community in the old city of Homs.

Fr Frans saying Mass for the Christian community in the old city of Homs.

“Father Van der Lugt had always been good to all, acting with love and gratuity, and was therefore loved and esteemed by both Christians and Muslims,” he said.

Pope Francis said the priest’s “brutal killing filled me with profound sadness and made me think once again of the many people who suffer and die in that afflicted country, which has already been too long in the throes of a bloody conflict that continues to spread death and destruction.”

The Pontiff continued, “I also think of the many people kidnapped, both Christians and Muslims, Syrian and from other countries, among whom there are bishops and priests. I ask the Lord that they may soon return to their loved ones and to their families and communities.”

The Holy Father concluded: “I fervently implore all to join in my prayer for peace in Syria and throughout the region, and make a heartfelt appeal to the Syrian authorities and to the international community: set down your weapons and bring an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction! Respect human rights, take care of your people who are in need of humanitarian assistance, and pursue the longed-for peace through dialogue and reconciliation.”

Fr Frans arrived in Syria in 1966 after spending two years in Lebanon studying Arabic.

No group has claimed responsibility for his murder. 

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