Monday, August 15, 2016


Continuing our theme of the Jesuits, I recently read that since the 1970s there have been over 30 Jesuit Martyrs from all over the world.  The most recent is FATHER FRANS van der LUGT S.J.,  who began his ministry in Syria in 1966.
Father Van der Lugt was born into a banker's family and grew up in Amsterdam. His father was Godefridus Wilhelmus Antonius van der Lugt, president of the Nederlandsche Landbouwbank. His brother Godfried van der Lugt became a top executive with the Postbankand. Father studied as a psychotherapist but left the Netherlands for the Middle East in the 1960s, where he joined the Jesuits and spent two years in Lebanon, studying Arabic. In 1966 he went to Syria, where he lived for nearly fifty years.
Father van der Lugt started a community center and farm in 1980, the Al-Ard Center, just outside the city of Homs. The farm had vineyards and gardens in which much of the work was done by people with disabilities, providing an unprecedented resource in a society in which such people are usually hidden from view. In reconciling people from different religious backgrounds, he emphasized the humanity of people as the common ground, rather than stressing commonality in the theologies of different faiths. He saw connection with the earth as part of a common bond. To this end, he conducted annual eight-day treks across the mountains for teenagers of all faiths.
After the siege of Homs, Father van der Lugt cared for the sick and the hungry. He gained international exposure at the beginning of 2014 when he made a number of YouTube videos, asking the international community for help for the citizens of the besieged city. He refused to leave, despite the dangerous situation. In February, The Economist reported that he was probably the last European in the city and stayed because he was "the shepherd of his flock": He declined being evacuated during a UN operation in 2014 that saved 1400 people from the besieged city.
Father van der Lugt was known for helping Christians and Muslims alike; the Al-Ard Center aimed to foster dialog between people of different faiths.  During his ministry he was a voice of faith and love in the face of injustice. He offered shelter in his monastery to Muslims and Christians left homeless by the war, which began in March 2011. He was trapped with many other Syrians by the government’s siege on Homs. Despite the obvious risk, Father Van der Lugt stayed in Syria to support the civilians in his ministry. On the morning of April 7, 2014, he was abducted from his home beaten and shot by unidentified men.

The February before his death he exemplified his love for his ministry in a comment to AFP, “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,”

In an appeal to end violence in Homs and the rest of Syria, Pope Francis remembered Father van der Lugt:
He always did good to all, with gratitude and love, and therefore he was loved and respected by Christians and Muslims. His brutal murder has filled me with deep pain and it made me think of a lot of people still suffering and dying in that tormented country, my beloved Syria, already too long in the throes of a bloody conflict, which continues to reap death and destruction. I also think of the many people abducted, both Christians and Muslims, in Syria and in other countries as well, among which are bishops and priests. 

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