Editor’s Note: Tony Homsy, a friend of Fr. Frans, posted his reflections on Fr. Frans on 8 April and is available here.
Author’s note: Below is the email the Jesuit community in Berkeley received this morning from our Fady Chidiac, a Lebanese Jesuit currently in Berkeley and member of the Middle East Province, who himself had just received the news from his province that our brother Jesuit, Frans Van Der Lugt, had been martyred in Homs, Syria. David Gibson surveys the initial reports and Fr. Frans’s appeals for peace over at Religion News Service. Buzzfeed also has a brief memorial to his life and work:
“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,” the Jesuit priest, known as Father Frans, told AFP in February.
Fr. Frans, who had worked in Syria since 1966, was one of those rare witnesses to faith who proclaimed life and carried his cries against injustice to his death. We share this brief email in hopes that by his example, as Fady told me, others may know that the Christian call for radical love is still alive. In Fr. Frans’s own words:
Christians and Muslims are going through a difficult and painful time and we are faced with many problems. The greatest of these is hunger. People have nothing to eat. There is nothing more painful than watching mothers searching for food for children in the streets…I will not accept that we die of hunger. I do not accept that we drown in a sea of hunger, letting the waves of death drag us under. We love life, we want to live. And we do not want to sink in a sea of pain and suffering.
I just received a very sad news. Fr. Frans Van Der Lugt, a Jesuit in Syria, was tortured and shot to death in front of our residence in Homs. Frans is a Dutch Jesuit who fully became a Syrian. He became very influential in the country on many levels, such as youth programs, spirituality, inter-religious dialogue and politics.
During this lasting turmoil in Syria, he was trapped with many others by the government’s siege of Homs. Frans was given the chance to leave Homs but he refused to do so. In accord with our Provincial, Victor Assouad, he took up the mission of staying in the besieged area of Homs to support the innocent civilians trapped there, despite the obvious risk. Many Syrians who were recently released from the siege of Homs, as result of recent accords, testified of the crucial role Frans played in helping them survive months without food.
Today more than ever, I stand in complete awe in front of our brothers Jesuits in Syria who refuse to flee the country. Guided by our Lord carrying his cross, they lovingly share the fate of many, many Syrians.
We indeed lost a brave soul, a relentless spirit, a progressive visionary and an amazing Jesuit fellow, but on worthy battle fields. May Frans’s famous phrase that motivated many Muslim and Christian Syrians keep resounding: ila al amam -“Go forward”.
May God protect and strengthen our remaining other brothers in Syria and all innocent Syrians.
Fady Cidiac, SJ
We mourn with Fady and the Jesuits of the Middle East, we pray for peace for the people of Homs and all of Syria, and we celebrate the witness of our Jesuit brother Frans Van Der Lugt.