The news today about Rev. Francis van der Lugt, a Jesuit priest gunned down in Homs, sent shockwaves around the world. We were struck, in particular, by a connection to CNEWA. A story in the Associated Press (old/broken link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/syria-media-rebels-killed-preparing-car-bomb/2014/04/07/4a34c580-be2e-11e3-9ee7-02c1e10a03f0_story.html) quoted one of our contributors, a colleague and friend of Father van der Lugt, Rev. Ziad Hilal:
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the 75-year-old van der Lugt, was “a man of peace, who with great courage, had wanted to remain faithful, in an extremely risky and difficult situation, to the Syrian people to whom he had dedicated, for a long time, his life and spiritual service.”
It appeared that van der Lugt was directly targeted. A single gunman walked into the monastery, entered the garden and shot him in the head, said Rev. Ziad Hillal, a priest, who was in the convent when the attacked occurred.
“I am truly shocked. A man of peace has been murdered,” Hillal said in a phone interview from Homs with the Vatican Radio.
Van der Lugt’s death was first reported by Homs-based priest Assad Nayyef, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the state-run news agency, SANA.
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.
We join our prayers with all those in Syria, and indeed around the world, who are grieving this tragedy.
For more on the crisis in Syria, read Fr. Ziad Hilal’s “Letter from Syria” in the Summer 2013 issue of ONE.