A priest helping Christians find shelter in Syria’s Old City of Homs has been murdered. Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt was shot twice in the head this morning, April 7, by an unknown sniper who killed him while he tended his small garden.
Speaking from Syria, fellow Jesuit Father Ziad Hillal told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “Father Frans was apparently killed execution-style with shots to the head. We have received a phone report from a Christian who was with him in the Old City.”
The 75-year-old Van der Lugt, who had worked in Syria since 1967, had been looking after 89 Christians trapped in the Old City who had sought shelter in an old monastery.
The number fell to around 20-25 in February 2014 after a three-day truce between warring sides allowed people to leave the Old City, but Fr. Hillal reported that the Dutch priest had remained to take care of those who could not leave.
Fr. Hillal accompanied ACN officials to speak to EU politicians about the situation in Homs. The priest explained why some Christians had remained behind in the Old City. He said: “The UN representatives were urgently required to leave Homs and go to another city, so we had to stop abruptly before finishing the evacuations. Father Frans and the remaining 20-25 Christians in the city did not manage to leave in time.”
Fr. Hillal spoke with Father van der Lugt, via Skype, from Brussels, and discussed, among other things, the possibility of a modest celebration of the Dutch priest’s birthday. He was due to turn 76 on April 10.
Fr Hillal said: “For me, [Fr van der Lugt] represents Christ in the world who is willing to lay down his life for his friends, who always gives us hope. He always asks how I am and does not talk much about himself.” He added: “He was a ray of joy and hope to all those trapped in the Old City of Homs, waiting for yet another UN permission to evacuate.
“God have mercy on us, who could not save him from sniper fire.”
Fr. Hillal also said that at present it is not possible to reach the Old City to recover Fr van der Lugt’s corpse.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)