Kudos to the Washington Post for covering the murder of Fr. Frans van der Lugt, a Jesuit priest who had dedicated his life to the precarious Christian community in Syria. In his fifty years of ministry in Homs, van der Lugt reached out to all communities in Homs, working to fight the sectarian divisions that have erupted anew in his adopted homeland. His service was so well known that the septuagenarian priest was one of the few who could mediate between the government and rebels to protect his dwindling flock in one of the hardest-hit sectors of the city. Someone wanted to put an end to that possibility, and killed Fr. van der Lugt to do it:
The priest was “a Syrian among Syrians” who refused to abandon his adopted people even when it meant risking his own life, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said. In a statement, the Vatican called van der Lugt a “man of peace” who wanted to remain faithful to the people to whom he had dedicated his spiritual service.
Van der Lugt had repeatedly called for a solution to end the suffering of residents in besieged areas of Homs, which has been cut off from food supplies by a government siege and is regularly bombarded. His monastery sat in the Bustan al-Diwan area of the Old City, one of the worst-hit districts in a city that has been crippled by the three-year-old Syrian war, and one of the few still held by the opposition.
Humanitarian workers said van der Lugt worked tirelessly to negotiate humanitarian access to the area ahead of the evacuation of 1,400 people by the United Nations in February, when Western-backed peace talks in Geneva turned the international spotlight onto Homs.
“He was one of the very few people who could cross the front lines in Homs,” Erksoussi said. “Whoever killed him is hindering any effort for peace. Whoever killed him knew he had good relations with almost everybody.”
Van der Lugt was shot in the head in a “premeditated act,” the Rev. Ziad Hillal, another Jesuit who lived with him, said in an interview with Vatican Radio. A video posted online showed the priest’s robed body being laid in a coffin.
One of the few news services besides the Post to cover the assassination of Fr. van der Lugt was al-Jazeera:
Less than three months ago, Fr. van der Lugt pleaded for outside intervention to stop the war and protect the civilians caught in the middle of it — especially those in the nearly-two-year blockade of Homs:
“Do you think the international community will act while we are dying out of hunger or will it keep silent?” Van de Lugt thought it was “not possible” that the world would keep silent. “We love life and love living it,” he responded in what were his last words on this message, “and we hate to die out of agony.” Perhaps the assassin thought he could silence van der Lugt with a bullet, but perhaps we can prove him wrong. Let’s see how many other people pick up this peacemaker’s challenge and at least let his words be heard.