Dutch Jesuit Fr. Francis van der Lugt was brutally murdered in Homs, Syria by masked gunman. The septigenarian cleric was beaten by a masked man on the street in front of the Jesuit monastery in Bustan al-Diwan, a Christian portion of the Old City, and then he was shot twice in the head.
Fr. van der Lugt who was a trained psychotherapist, had spent fifty years living in Syria ministering to disabled people at the Al Ard Center near Homs. The Center also took in refugees from the Syrian Civil War, but that mission curtailed as the staff fled since they could not ensure the safety of their guests. Fr. van der Lugt tried to be a companion to those in mental distress and give them as much food as possible.
Fr. Frans refused to be part of the February 2014 UN supervised evacuation of 1,400 people from the city, which had been besieged for a year and a half. In the Old City of Homs, the Christian population had shrunk from tens of thousands to just 66. Christians used to make up 10% of the Syrian population before the Civil War, but Christians have been brutalized for their faith during the conflict Fr. van der Lugt reasoned that he was the only priest remaining to minister to his people so how could he leave.
In January, Fr. van der Lugt made pleas through the media that gained world-wide attention to have humanitarian aid sent to the city to feed the starving Muslim and Christian population.
This led to meeting with UN officials to receive aid and hear first hand accounts of the humanitarian trials in Homs. Fr. van der Lugt procured four kilos of kilos of flour a week from a Muslim charity so that he could make bread and distribute half a loaf to the enclaves neediest 30 people.
Besides, Fr. van der Lugt considered Syria to be his home. The Jesuit proclaimed: "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." Per the priests instructions, his earthly remains will be buried in Syria.
Syrian opposition forces were quick to blame the Bashar al-Assad government for the slaying, claiming that government would be the only ones to benefit from the killing. Yet Fr. van der Lugt believed that even after eighteen months of being under siege that the opposition was not popular among Syrians. The amnesty which was offered in January only applied to Syrians. Thus the foreign fighters who remained in the Old City may have looked askance at one who was not a co-religionist.
Regardless of who was responsible, Fr. Francis van der Lugt was a martyr for the faith. Aside from Pope Francis' cri-de-coeur at his fellow Jesuit's brutal slaying, the Vatican voiced outrage over the killing of Fr. van der Lugt. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See declared: "This is the death of a man of peace, who showed great courage in remaining loyal to the Syrian people despite an extremely risky and difficult situation." Lombardi added that the Dutch priest had offered "the testimony of Jesus to the end."
Fr. van der Lugt's selfless dedication to his fellow man and openness to serve the Lord even unto death echos the ultimate sacrifice that our Lord Jesus Christ which we will celebrate next week in the Triduum.