April 7, 2014 — Dutch Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt, 75, who refused to leave war-torn Syria, instead staying in Homs to help the poor and homeless, was beaten by armed men and killed with two bullets to the head today, according to an email sent by the Jesuits' Middle East province to the Jesuit headquarters in Rome.
Fr. Van der Lugt, who had worked in Syria since 1966, declined suggestions to leave because he wanted to help Syria's suffering civilians — "Christians and Muslims — anyone in need," said Father Giuseppe Bellucci, head of the Jesuits' press office.
Fr. Van der Lugt became known around the world
after appealing for aid for the people of the besieged city of Homs in a video
posted on YouTube in late January.
The United Nations supervised an evacuation of about 1,400 people from Homs in early February; arriving in Jordan, the refugees confirmed Fr. Van der Lugt's accounts of people, especially young children, starving to death.
Speaking to Catholic News Service by telephone Feb. 6, the Jesuit priest had said: "There has been no food. People are hungry and waiting for help. No injured people have been allowed to leave. Families have been hoping to get out of the siege and out of the fighting between the two sides.
"The wounded have not received proper treatment, so healing has been difficult. Newborns die very quickly because of a lack of milk," he said. "There have been cases of death due to hunger and starvation."
Fr. Van der Lugt was born April 10, 1938, in the Netherlands and entered the Society of Jesus in 1959. During the almost 50 years he served in Syria, he worked in education and in a project for handicapped people. In the 1980s, he opened Al Ard ("the land"), a center of spirituality just outside of Homs. The center housed about 40 children with mental disabilities from nearby villages. He was also a psychotherapist and very involved in interreligious dialogue.In a statement, the Holy See’s press spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said Fr. Van der Lugt “died as a man of peace, who with great courage in an extremely dangerous and difficult situation, wanted to remain faithful to the Syrian people to whom he had dedicated so many years of his life and spiritual service. Where people die, their faithful shepherds also die with them. In this time of great sorrow, we express our participation in prayer, but also great pride and gratitude for having had a brother so close to the most suffering in the testimony of the love of Jesus to the end." [Sources: Catholic News Service, Vatican Radio]