The world is shocked by the news of the ruthless murder of Rev. Frans Van Der Lugt, a 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit who was killed early yesterday morning in Homs, Syria. A masked gunman entered the Jesuit residence where Father Frans lived and shot him twice in the head.
This horrific event has hit us hard in the Beirut office of CNEWA. We have known and worked with Father Frans for nearly a decade.
Father Frans was a psychotherapist involved in interreligious dialogue in Syria since 1967. He also built a center in Homs that housed 40 children with mental disabilities.
He was a well-known figure in the old city of Homs, respected by many for his refusal to leave the old city’s remaining residents despite constant shelling and dwindling supplies, insisting that Syria was his home and he wanted to be with the country’s citizens in their time of need. The old city has been held by the rebels and under a government siege for nearly two years. Father Frans’ appeals for help, posted on YouTube, described dramatically the dire circumstances facing the people of Homs, where food was scarce and even milk for newborns was hard to come by.
CNEWA has worked with the Middle East province of the Jesuit Fathers for decades, especially its communities in Lebanon and Syria. In 2006, CNEWA supported Father Frans and his work with children near Homs, rehabilitating the Al Ard Center for the mentally challenged. Located some 18 miles from Homs in the village of Al Qusayr near the Lebanese-Syrian border, the center is owned and operated by the Jesuit Fathers under the jurisdiction of the Latin archbishop in Syria. Directed by Father Frans, the center provided physical therapy, teaching and skill-building five days a week, five hours a day — and all that for free. Before Syria’s civil war, the center also received people seeking spiritual meditation, formation and retreats. The center also established an agro-industrial center for the production of olive oil and wine.
Even during the siege of Homs, when we couldn’t contact Father Frans directly, CNEWA continued to support the needy, marginalized and suffering people of Homs through his brother Jesuit, Rev. Ziad Hilal, who also remained in Syria. Since 2012, CNEWA has been able to provide 5,310 Syrian families in Homs with food and 4,100 Syrian students with school kits through Father Ziad.
Our efforts to support the struggling and suffering people of Syria go on.
Meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with our Jesuit colleagues in Syria. We grieve with them, and for all the people of Homs who knew and loved this remarkable and courageous priest.
As the Vatican noted yesterday, the world has lost “a man of peace.”