Four days ago marked the fortieth day since the martyrdom of Fr. Frans van der Lugt, SJ, who you will remember was killed in the Syrian city of Homs. Forty is a biblical number by all accounts, and biblical days ought to marked by something special. The fortieth day of Fr. Frans’s death was marked, by Georgetown alumnae and Fulbright scholar Jordan Denari, with an icon. In describing it she writes: “The fortieth day is a significant event in the mourning ritual of Middle Eastern Christians. Many believe that after a person’s death their spirit remains on earth for forty days and then ascends to heaven. Indeed, Fr. Frans’ spirit has been felt among us in the days since his death, reigniting my passion for promoting interfaith understanding.”
It’s beautiful. And in the physical depiction and the lettering that frames it (which you can find translated on her website here) Ms. Denari’s empathy for Fr. Frans and the people of Homs is evident – all the more so now that the siege has ended and people are beginning to return to the city. That’s right, after a nearly three-year-siege on May 8th – one month and one day after Fr. Frans was killed – an amnesty between the Syrian government and the rebel troops was reached. The Daily Mail reported that as “Al-Assad’s troops entered the city the extent of destruction caused by two years of continuous fighting was laid bare, with whole neighbourhoods reduced to rubble and building reduced to concrete skeletons. The city was once home to nearly a million people, according to a 2002 census, but its central districts are now virtual ghost towns, littered with twisted metal an broken concrete.” The pictures of this return are powerful as well – as powerful as Ms. Denari’s icon of Fr. Frans:
There is a part of me that is tempted to look at these images and mourn. And another part of me that is tempted to take refuge in the comfort of thin words about resurrection and hope. It’s not that I don’t believe such words, it’s that I’m not sure that it is my place – the place of any of us who are not walking across the rubbled out streets of a former city of a million souls – to speak about resurrection. Maybe it’s too easy to speak words of hope from afar. Which does not mean that there is nothing to do. Ms. Denari has shown us one such thing. We can create images of prayer, give whatever passion for reconciliation and understanding might lie buried some room to breathe. We can also join with those who have begun to visit Fr. Frans’ tomb, which is quickly becoming a pilgrimage site. “Visitors,” says Rana Moussaoui in a report for the Daily Star, “flock to van der Lugt’s grave by the dozen, unable to contain their tears. Some make the sign of the cross, while others sink into a sad meditation. …Near his grave, which is adorned with flowers, [he] smiles out from a large photo in which a toddler is seen clinging to his leg.” We are too far away to adorn his grave with flowers, too far to cling to his leg. Most of us – although perhaps not all – are too far to join the pilgrims as they walk back to their hollowed out homes. But we are not too far away to mark forty days with prayer. Nor are we too far away to support those close enough to do more.
Cover Image: Icon of Fr. Frans van der Lugt SJ,© 2014, Jordan Denari. All Rights Reserved, used by permission.