Five years after priest’s murder in Syria, Jesuits hope to introduce his cause

Homs, Syria, Apr 8, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- During a visit to Homs last week, the superior general of the Society of Jesus said that he would be happy to open a cause of beatification for Fr. Frans van der Lugt, who was killed in the Syrian city five years ago.

“I would be happy, God willing, to work for the opening of the cause of Fr Frans van der Lugt so that he may serve as a model of self-giving and holiness for this country, Syria, and for the whole Church,” Fr. Arturo Sosa said April 6 during a trip commemorating the April 7, 2014 death of the priest.

Fr. van der Lugt, a native of the Netherlands, was killed by an unknown gunman. He was caring for the fewer than 30 Christians who then remained in the Old City district of Homs, which had been blockaded by the Syrian government for nearly two years as part of the Syrian civil war.

Fr. Sosa visited Homs April 5-6, and Beirut April 7, in memory of Fr. van der Lugt, delivering and address and celebrating Masses. Fr. Ziad Hilal, a Syrian Jesuit, told La Croix that Fr. Sosa was accompanied by Fr. Pascual Cebollada, the Society’s general postulator.

“According to the rules of the Church, it is necessary to wait for five years after the death of someone before introducing his or her case for beatification. It is time now to begin the process,” Fr. Hilal said.

Fr. van der Lugt served in Syria nearly 50 years, 30 of them in Homs, and was involved in interreligious dialogue and had built a spirituality center that housed children with mental disabilities.

During his April 6 address, Fr. Sosa said: “Being here with you in Homs on the eve of the 5th anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr Frans van der Lugt is a particularly important and moving moment for me … To come to Syria, to know this place where Fr. Frans lived for many years, to be one of the so many pilgrims who give thanks for what his life has meant, even without knowing him, was for me a wish, indeed a burning desire ever since I first heard about him.”

Fr. van der Lugt “loved this country, Syria, and the many and diverse people with whom he was in contact for almost 50 years, and to whom he gave himself by speaking their language, receiving everything from them and presenting himself to them with empty hands,” the superior general said.

“His whole life was in perfect harmony and in tune with these principles, and his martyrdom was the natural result of all that he had experienced.”

During the siege of Homs “Fr Frans gave himself to everyone, enduring famine and sometimes persecution. He refused to leave this place while others were still confined there. He had to give up everything except his hope and faith in life and resurrection,” Fr. Sosa reflected.

“May the Lord give us the grace, through the intercession of Fr Frans, to continue our mission with courage, determination and hope, especially in this country where there have been so many trials and so much suffering and where the challenges of reconciliation and peace continue to be so urgent and immense,” he concluded.

During his homily at a Mass in Homs April 5, Fr. Sosa said that during the blockade of Homs “Frans’ first concern was to ensure that bread would be shared to feed the few who had stayed behind.”

“He could have fled from this hell on earth so many times. However, he freely and voluntarily chose to show solidarity with each of these little ones, whom he considered to be his brothers and sisters, not wanting to abandon any of them.”

To foster interreligious unity in Syria, Fr. van der Lugt would organized multi-day walking tours to sites in the country, and days of work and activity for handicapped persons in the countryside outside Homs.

Wael Salibi, a young friend of Fr. van der Lugt, told CNA shortly after his death that “we didn’t know when we (were) suffering, when we lost the road, who was walking with him, whether he was Christian or Muslim, we are just sons of God and sons of this land, Syria … that was his target, to put Muslims and Christians together.”

“We never felt like he wasn’t Syrian. I think he’s Syrian more than anyone I know,” Salibi added. “He changed the lives of thousands of people… he taught us the meaning of love not just with words, but with life.”

In the week following Fr. van der Lugt’s death, Pope Francis said he was a man who “always did good to all, with gratuity and love,” and who was “loved and admired by both Christians and Muslims.”

Two months before his death Fr. van der Lugt told AFP that “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 the homily at his first Mass, said May 30, 1971, Fr. van der Lugt said: “It is only when my hands are empty that I can really receive the other; to fill my hands with him, to give him space in my arms, to call him by his name, speak his language. (…) I found all this in one who fascinates me to the depths of my being, a man who was able to live simply, with empty hands: Jesus of Nazareth. Knowing how to live with empty hands, he always made room in his life for his Father and for his fellow human beings”.

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