It was in the middle of the night when I found out that Dutch Jesuit priest, Fr Frans van der Lugt SJ was shot dead by a masked gunman in Syria. The news was like something out of an action movie. I had read about this priest a few months ago, when he made headlines for refusing to leave the besieged area of Homs, so long as there were still people there who were suffering. Having lived in Syria since 1966, van der Lugt was said to have been well respected by the community around him. Spokesperson for the Vatican, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ is reported to have said of Fr Frans’ death:
“This is the death of a man of peace, who showed great courage in remaining loyal to the Syrian people despite an extremely risky and difficult situation.”
I personally stand in sorrow at the death of such a man, but also with great admiration and encouragement. Though our brother-Jesuits have lost one of their own, though the people of Syria have lost an ally and a friend in Pater Frans, the Church and the world have gained in him, an examplar of faith, courage and fidelity to God.
As I thought about the loss – and it is indeed very much that – I remembered the words of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus to which Fr Frans belonged, and spiritual father of the Faithful Companions of Jesus. In his Principle and Foundation [SPEX #23] we have a teaching on indifference (better understood as non-attachment), application of which does not come so automatically to our human nature:
Yet we have in Fr van der Lugt, an immediate and real-life example of this ideal, personified. In his life of service and ministry, we see how his actions came from a deep conviction of God’s call to love, and in his death, we see a man who devoted his whole life to the greater glory of God. Ad majorem Dei gloriam.
May we remember in our thoughts and prayer, the memory and repose of Fr Frans van der Lugt SJ; the people of Syria to whom he served and for all who are affected by war and civil unrest. We also pray for ourselves as members of the faithful, to be in the world, in like example of Fr Frans and St Ignatius before him, as lovers of peace, restorers of justice and people for God.