POPE FRANCIS has joined church leaders and politicians around
the world in condemning the murder in Syria of a Dutch Jesuit
priest, Fr Frans van der Lugt, on Monday.
He was forced out of his monastery in the largely destroyed and
rebel-controlled Old City of Homs by masked gunmen, who forced him
to sit on a chair in the garden, before shooting him in the
Fr van der Lugt was an advocate of peace, and had played a part
in negotiating a break in the siege of the Old City last February,
when most civilians were able to leave. The Jesuit priest and
others in the monastery refused to move out.
On Wednesday, the Pope said: "His brutal murder filled me with
with deep sadness and made me think again of all the people who
suffer and are dying in that martyred country, already too long a
victim of a bloody conflict that continues to sow death and
The Dutch Foreign Minister, Frans Timmermans, called the murder
"cowardly", and said that Fr van der Lugt had "brought nothing but
good to Homs. He deserves our thanks and our respect. He must be
able to count on our commitment to help end this misery."
Fr Van der Lugt arrived in Syria nearly 50 years ago, and had
come to regard the country as his permanent home. In an interview
earlier this year, he said: "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
He said that he did not see people "as Muslims or Christians. I
see them first and foremost as humans."
The monastery where Fr van der Lugt served is located in a
rebel-held area, which has been under siege by government forces
for months. The monks have been helping the poor and needy to
survive under increasingly difficult conditions. More than 20 other
people remain in the monastery, and there is growing anxiety about
The murder of Fr van der Lugt will increase the fears about the
future of the dwindling number of Syrian Christians still in the
country. Radical Islamists are increasingly dominant in the ranks
of rebel forces, raising the possibility that they might eventually
take over large areas of Syria. Still more Christians' fleeing is
Although there was relief last month when a group of Syrian nuns
were freed by their abductors (News, 14 March), there is
still no news about the Syrian Oriental Orthodox Archbishop of
Aleppo, Mor Yohanna Ibrahim, and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of
Aleppo, the Most Revd Paul Yazigi, who were abducted nearly a year
26 April 2013).