Today a friend sent me the news that Father Frans van der Lugt, a 75 year old Jesuit priest from the Netherlands, who had spent most of his life teaching and ministering to Christians and Moslems alike in Syria, was brutally beaten and shot to death outside the Jesuit residence in Homs on April 7. Homs, a center of rebel activity, has been besieged by government forces for the past year. The remaining population of the city is suffering from hunger and fear.
Father Frans had refused to leave the city because he wanted to stay on and minister to the Syrian Christian community that he had come to call his own. The Christian community had existed in Syria almost from the beginning and had survived more than 1000 years of Moslem rule. There is nothing in the Koran that would allow or require faithful Moslems to murder innocent Christian believers.
Now there are less than 100 Christians left in Homs. As yet there is no news on the murderers of Fr, Frans but I suspect that the rebels were responsible. The rebels have claimed that the Christians in Syria support the Assad regime, and just as in Libya and Egypt, the so-called “Arab Spring” has led to the wholesale persecution of Christians by Moslem fanatics.
The lead article on the front page of the Wall St. Journal today did not mention Fr. Frans but did discuss a rift in the Obama administration on aid to rebels in Syria. Apparently, Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for aid to the rebels while the President’s military advisors are reluctant to get involved in what could turn out to be another long-term commitment in the Middle East. Aid to the rebels would either involve direct military involvement or training of rebel fighters.
Advocates of involvement insist that aid would only go to moderate rebels. One wonders how we can tell the difference between moderate rebels and extremist killers. Also, we should consider the possibility that once moderate rebels are fully trained and armed, they might no longer act like moderates. Isn’t it amazing that we want to disarm our own population but think nothing of providing Moslem militants with the latest sophisticated weapons?
If recent history is any guide, moderates in places like Libya and Egypt were quickly overwhelmed by more extremist and violent elements. Today, Libya is still in chaos, and the Arab Spring in Egypt has resulted in military rule. In each case the ones who have suffered the most have been the Christians.
The death of Fr. Frans on April 7 has so far not appeared on the mainstream American media. A Google search will help but here is a link to a news source. I was educated by Jesuits priests more than 50 years ago at Fordham University in the Bronx. Most were dedicated scholars and teachers but I do believe that a handful were in the mold of Fr. Frans who must have been in training when I was in college. Shortly before he died he said that he had come to love the people of Syria who had done so much for him.
Fr. Frans died a martyr’s death. We are not all called to be martyrs. But the small percentage of priests and religious that continue to suffer martyrdom today should make people think twice before they vilify the Catholic Church and its priests because of the 2% who violated their vows iback in the 60s and 70s when Fr. Frans took up his cross to serve in the Holy Land.