Fears escalate after murder of Jesuit

11 April 2014

reuters

Among his people: Fr Frans van der Lugt, the Jesuit who was murdered on Monday, pictured on 29 January, when he was urging those in the beseiged area of Homs to be patient

Among his people: Fr Frans van der Lugt, the Jesuit who was murdered on Monday, pictured on 29 January, when he was urging those in the beseiged are...

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 head.

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 destruction." 

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 their difficulties."

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 their safety.

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 inevitable.

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 ago (News, 26 April 2013).

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