Beirut (AsiaNews) - He was a man who "was able to cross borders" and "reached the limit of his strength in order to live among those who had welcomed him," said Fr Adolfo Nicolás Pachón, superior general of the Society of Jesus, in a message dedicated to Fr Frans van der Lugt, a fellow Jesuit who was killed on 7 April in Homs, Syria.
The note was read during a memorial Mass celebrated in Beirut for "ferryman," a man of life and culture, a man who knew how to be faithful until the end to his missionary vocation, a man who sacrificed his life for Syria, which "he loved until the end."
Jesuit Provincial Fr Victor Assouad celebrated the service in the presence of the Dutch ambassador; the European Union's representative in Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst, also Dutch; Nuncio Gabriele Caccia; as well as Bishops Boulos Daddah, Aad Abikarama, Boulos Matar and Michel Aoun.
In the message, read by Fr Assouad, the superior of the Jesuits said, "Dear friends, you are gathered here out of friendship for Fr Frans van der Lugt. It is first of all, for this reason, I join you in this memorial Mass for the life he gave."
"Through his long presence and his activities in Syria, which he loved so much, Fr Frans wove a vast and diverse network of friends. Now he is with the Lord, who said to his disciples "I no longer call you slaves [. . .]. I have called you friends."
"Fr Frans was a man of reconciliation between generations, between communities, between Christians and Muslims, between cultural and political tendencies. His intercession is at the centre of this Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation."
"A Jesuit, he was able to cross borders. He left his country, the Netherlands, and made Arabic his own language, crossing mountains and forests together with groups of young people to share joy."
"He reached the limit of his strength to live among those who had welcomed him. And in the end, he crossed the last border, that of forgiveness. A friend of the Lord, a man of peace, a ferryman: Fr Frans was all this to us. I assure you my feelings of communion and prayer. "
After reading the Gospel, Fr Victor Assouad, provincial superior of the Society of Jesus, said that "Fr Frans' violent death affects us in our deepest self, but does not hurt our hope."
For him, "It is in perfect coherence and harmony with Gospel teachings. It logically fits with Christ's sequela, his person and destiny, until the end. Fr Frans had considered this possibility and had fully accepted it. I can say that he was truly at peace, moving towards his destiny in full solidarity, determination, compassion and love. Full of love for his people in Syria, he loved them until the end."
"All those who knew Fr Frans will agree with me that he had the ability to bring people out of the grave of helplessness and fear, despair and death."
"As you know, he was a trained psychiatrist, and was able to understand and analyse things hidden in the bottom of the human soul. He was a priest capable of freeing people and returning them to life."
"When, almost a month ago, some groups of civilians were able to leave Homs' old neighbourhoods after more than a year and a half of siege, they all said that, without Fr Frans, death would have been their fate."
"When I talked to him on the phone, almost three weeks ago, his voice was unusually clear. He repeated that he was at peace, full of joy. He told me: 'Don't be afraid for me; I am fine."
"In 2009, he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his religious profession at the al-Ard (Land) Agricultural Centre, which he had founded. During the Mass he celebrated for the occasion, he spoke in front of a thousand people about his vocation and said that after his first communion, as he entered the church and saw the crucified Christ on the cross, he realised that love is the true face of the crucified Jesus Christ. He understood that the Crucified Christ was the embodiment of true love and boundless giving. What happened on Monday, 7 April, was the confirmation, the realisation, the seal of this vocation to love like the crucified Christ."
(Photo: Fr Thom Sicking SJ reads the Gospel in Dutch, Fr Frans van der Lugt's mother tongue. Fr Victor Assouad is behind him)