Jesuit priest Frans van der Lugt was shot to death in Homs on April 7.
More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria since Bashar al-Assad first used force against peaceful anti-government demonstrators three years ago. Now, added to that horrific toll, is yet another killing: of a prominent Catholic priest, a Dutchman by birth, who lived and worked in Syria for nearly 50 years, and considered his home to be among the Christians and Muslims who once lived peacefully together in the city of Homs.
Jesuit priest Frans van der Lugt was shot to death in Homs on April 7. He had gained international prominence through a video clip released earlier this year, when he described how Syrians in the city were dying of malnutrition, after the delivery of food and other humanitarian assistance was blocked for months by the Syrian regime. Father van der Lugt insisted on staying in Homs even after more than a thousand people were allowed evacuated in February. He ministered to a dwindling Christian community, and worked to help both poor Christian and Muslim families. “The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness…If [they] are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties,” he had said.
No one has claimed responsibility for Father van der Lugt’s death, which was strongly condemned by Syria’s opposition National Council. In a statement, the Council said it firmly supported the quest to find and hold accountable those who perpetrated what it called “this cowardly act.”
U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki also denounced the violent attack that killed Father van der Lugt, whom she commended for his life-long support of the Syrian people; and she condemned “all attacks against innocent civilians and minority communities:”
“As we've said throughout this conflict, we deplore continued threats against Christians in Syria, and we reiterate that we stand on the side of the Syrian people, who are fighting for a Syria that is inclusive and pluralistic and respects all faiths.”
Father van der Lugt once said, “I don’t see Muslims or Christians, I see, above all, human beings [who] hunger to lead a normal life.”
That hunger survives the death of this advocate for the Syrian people, one who counted his place among them. The Assad regime must work to move forward on a negotiated political transition that can end the conflict and the suffering of the Syrian people.