Syria’s remaining Christian community fears that "difficult times” are coming, following the murder of Rev. Frans Van de Lugt – a Catholic priest from the Netherlands who had served in Syria for decades. According to a report by Fides news service on April 7, Rev. Joseph Bazuzu – an Armenian Catholic priest - said "In Aleppo, we have put at the center of our pastoral care the condition in which we find ourselves. We are experiencing every day what it means to go through times of suffering. Now also father Frans Van der Lugt will help us with his example, he who testified his love for Christ and the Syrian people".
Father Bazuzu said "For more than a year, we have suggested that the ordinary pastoral should be orientated on the words and thoughts that can support the people of God in the condition in which we live. We started from the words of Jesus in the Gospel. To help us live these days, during homilies and catechesis meetings, we focus our reflection on some passages of the New Testament that describe this condition, in which only the help of Christ can sustain us".
The brutal assassination of Father Van der Lugt has shaken not only Christians. The 72 year-old Dutch Jesuit had labored for forty years in Syria and had established lines of communication with Muslims through his work as psychological counselor. Despite the fierce fighting between the Assad regime and Muslim insurgents, he chose to stay in Homs, struggling with daily bombing raids and the lack of food in the rebel-controlled neighborhood of Bustan al-Diwan. Despite the evacuation of other civilians under the auspices of the United Nations, he had remained in Homs until his death. The state-controlled media attributes his death to unidentified "terrorists" - a term with which the Syrian government defines the armed opposition.
Fr. Frans van der Lugt was member of the Society of Jesus - the Jesuits. According to Fr. Alex Basili SJ, the Provincial of the Jesuits in the Middle East and the Maghreb, Father van der Lugt was abducted by armed men on April 7 who beat him before applying two fatal bullets into his head in the street outside his residence. Said Father Basili, "May the Lord help our brothers of the Society of Jesus, who are totally dedicated to the service of all victims of violence".
Father van der Lugt had lived in Syria since 1966, after serving for a short time in neighboring Lebanon. A trained psychotherapist, he was also involved in interreligious dialogue. During the 1980s, he helped to foun a project called Al Ard ("the land") in Homs. Serving as an interfaith spirituality center, it housed about 40 children with mental disabilities.
Since 2011, Father van der Lugt lived in a monastery that is situated in the old city, where civilians were besieged for many months by the army of the Assad government. He often denounced the denial of medicine, food and other aid to the besieged civilians of home while calling for an accord between the government and Islamist insurgents to allow aid to flow to sick, exhausted, and hungry civilians.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.