Syria   Monday, 6th July 2015

Königstein/Sutton, 6th July 2015. A priest who was killed in Syria while caring for his people trapped in a war zone should be considered for canonisation, according to a fellow Jesuit who was his friend and colleague.

Father Frans van der Lugt was assassinated by an unknown sniper in April 2014 at his home in Homs.

The Dutch Jesuit had lived in Syria for more than 40 years and was based in Homs, caring for the Christians trapped in the Old City during a siege that lasted three years.

Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Fr Ziad Hilal said the Vatican “should consider making Fr Frans a saint”.

Fr Hilal, who worked with Fr van der Lugt from 2009 up until his death, described his friend’s simple and holy life.

He said his life and work was “like Mother Teresa” – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Recalling the 75-year-old Jesuit’s resolve to remain in the war zone, Fr Hilal said: “I spoke to him by phone about two weeks before his assassination.

“I said to him: ‘Why are you still in the Old City of Homs? Many others have left but not you.’ He replied: ‘I am here to protect the Christianity spirituality in the area. I am the only priest here now.’

“I was surprised because Fr Frans did not normally speak this way. It was unusual for him to mention the crisis in Syria so directly.”

Fr van der Lugt provided pastoral and practical help for about 75 Christians trapped in Homs Old City dependent on Aid to the Church in Need relief parcels provided through the work of Fr Hilal. 

Fr van der Lugt continued to stay there supporting those who did not escape during a three-day truce in February 2014.

Fr Hilal, who is now in England having completed his assignment in Syria, described how on one occasion he had gone to the border as part of a UN mission to evacuate civilians from the Old City of Homs during the pause in the fighting.

Fr van der Lugt had accompanied them to the border to help the elderly and infirm cross safely but refused to join them when asked by Fr Hilal.

He said: “I spoke to him at that time and encouraged him to come across the border but he said that he had to go back.”

Fr Hilal described Fr van der Lugt as “a symbol of reconciliation for the Christians and the Muslims”.

He said Fr van der Lugt had opened up the Jesuit residence in Homs for both Muslims and Christians and that the building became “a place of reconciliation between them”.

Fr Hilal stressed that Fr van der Lugt – the “saintly man” – always put others’ needs before his own.

He said: “Sometimes, I called him up on the phone and I would ask him what he was doing and he said he was visiting the old people and trying to get food and water to them.

“And I immediately thought – though I never said it – that he was an old person and that he too needed water and food just as much as them.”

He added: “I asked him about this and he told me that people never think of thanking God for what they do have; they only think of what they lack. He said: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.’” (Psalm 23).

Fr Hilal said that when he met Pope Francis in Rome in June 2013, he described the heroic actions of Fr van der Lugt who was then still in Homs and asked for the Pontiff’s prayers and help.

Fr Hilal said that, although to his knowledge the cause of Fr van der Lugt’s canonisation had not formally opened, in the eyes of many he “has become a saint already”.

He said: “People are already calling him a saint. One deacon has made an icon of him.”

Driven from their homes by so called Islamic State, a terrorist organisation, the Syrian people regard Fr van der Lugt’s self-sacrificing example as a sign of hope.

Fr Hilal highlighted the importance of faith to Christians who remain in Syria saying: “If Fr Frans becomes a saint, it will help people to have hope. It will encourage the people still in Syria – the Christians in particular – not to give up and leave.”

Syria is a priority country for Aid to the Church in Need projects – providing food, shelter and pastoral support.

Fr Hilal has coordinated a number of ACN projects – supporting suffering families and displaced people in and around Homs and the neighbouring Valley of the Christians.

Clare Creegan.