Homs (AsiaNews) - "Fr Frans was killed in the monastery garden with two shots to the head. It was a deliberate act," said Fr Said Ziad Hilal SJ who talked to the Arabic service of Vatican Radio about the priest who was slain yesterday in Homs.
Fr Bimal Kerketta SJ, an Indian priest who runs a Jesuit school in Minya (Egypt), talked to AsiaNews about his friendship with the Jesuit priest who lived in Syria for 50 years, where he tried to hold together the local community, which included both Christians and Muslims.
Fr Kerketta's testimonial follows. (Adaptation by AsiaNews)
Before the war in Syria, I visited Homs twice and I lived with Fr Frans van der Lugt for a few days. I saw his work and daily activities. He was a brave man, devoted to others, regardless of their religion.
He always tried to do his best to bring Muslims and Christians of various denominations together, in every sphere of life.
Father Frans was fully integrated into the life and culture of the Syrian people. He spoke Arabic very well and had great scientific knowledge of the Qur'an. Syrian Muslims will feel his loss the most. Many Muslims had come to live in the monastery under his care. Even an Islamic sheikh and his family had found refuge.
A Jesuit, Fr Frans van der Lugt ran special programmes for disabled Muslims and Christians, for the needy, the disadvantaged and the marginalised of society. He had special programmes for women who came to see him every day: for literacy, job training and home economics. Some worked in the vineyard of the Jesuit community.
His death is a severe blow for peace-loving Muslims and Christians. Now both sides will be even more scared. Even among different Christian denominations, it will not be easy to take steps towards one another, to work together.
In Islamic countries, we priests focus on people's humanity, on standing together as brothers and sisters.
In two days, Fr Frans would have turned 76. He was born 10 April 1938.
When he heard the news, the Jesuit community in Minya was shocked, because until his death he was able to maintain a balance between army troops and rebels, helping Muslims and Christians to live side by side.
The life of the Jesuit community in Homs is extremely difficult. None of the ten priests who lived in Syria has left the country, even though life is hard and hazardous since the war broke out. But such is our vocation as Jesuits: to serve Christ and the people with our lives.
During the fighting, our vineyard was attacked, captured and looted by the rebels. Now it is hard to reach: everything was destroyed.
The place where he was killed is controlled by the rebels. These use Christian homes and buildings to attack the Syrian army.
The place is more than a thousand years old with narrow streets. When soldiers move in, the rebels attack them with guerrilla tactics . . . thanks to the strong support of some Gulf States.
It is sad that religion, rather than bind humans, kills them, erasing ancient bonds of spirit and life.
As for me, I am ready to go to Syria and work there, at any time. I am talking to my superiors. God save Syria.
*Fr Bimal Kerketta is an Indian priest who has lived in Egypt for ten years. He heads the Jesuit-run school in Minya.
(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)