Beirut, 7 April 2014 – The Jesuit Refugee Service in Syria has announced its closure for three days over the tragic loss of Fr Frans van der Lugt. The whole JRS family is deeply saddened and shocked by his sudden death this morning.
“Fr Frans was a beacon for all of us, he did not only preach about love and reconciliation but he lived it out every day – in humility and with compassion for all – until the very end”, said JRS International Director, Peter Balleis.
Although not directly part of JRS, as a Jesuit priest who had lived in Homs for 50 years, Fr Frans was a source of inspiration to all young people who form the majority of JRS volunteers in Homs, Damascus and Aleppo.
“He embodied the JRS mission of accompaniment, he lived it every day.”
“I don’t see Muslims or Christians. I see, above all, human beings. I am the only priest and the only foreigner around, but I don’t feel like a foreigner. I’m head of the monastery. How can I leave it, how can I leave? This is impossible”, he said a couple of months before his death.
A life of service. Fr Frans, who came to Syria in 1966, worked hard to bring Syrians of different backgrounds together and encourage dialogue between them; his favourite word has always been “forward.”
A trained psychotherapist, Van Der Lugt, in the 1980s established an agricultural project – Al Ard – outside Homs where young people with mental health problems could find employment. Al Ard also served as a place for people with special needs and became a centre for dialogue between people of different religions and walks of life.
In early 2011, the Jesuit Father General, Nicolas Adolfo, visited Al Ard on his trip to Syria. Since the start of the conflict, the Jesuit monastery in Homs has helped families of all faiths.
When the war broke out in Syria, the Dutch Jesuit priest, 75-year-old Fr Frans van der Lugt, the Superior of a monastery in Homs, had decided to remain in solidarity with whoever chose to stay in the old city.
Fr Frans lived out his calling to be with Syrians of all creeds in their moment of suffering. He welcomed displaced people into the Jesuit residency inside the old city of Homs – providing them with shelter and sharing what little food supplies he had.
Throughout the 20 months of siege (that is still ongoing) he continued to be a pillar of support for the small remaining Christian community, as well as maintaining close ties with the resident Muslim community entrapped in the old city.
Fr Frans was a beacon for all of us, he did not only preach about love and reconciliation but he lived it out every day – in humility and with compassion for all – until the very end.