For the crime of faith


Father Frans van der Lugt was murdered because he refused to flee his home in Syria.  Shot because he was a Christian.

Father Frans van der Lugt

"Do this in memory of me," Jesus commanded the apostles, and from that time priests have attempted, despite our weakness and wickedness, to follow Jesus in his priestly sacrifice.  There was wickedness (Judas) and weakness (Peter) on that first Holy Thursday, and so it has been all along.  The priesthood, though, is a history of holiness, and a history of those who have followed Jesus to martyrdom.  Priests are even today being killed because we do this in memory of Jesus.

The latest was Father Frans van der Lugt, a Jesuit killed in Syria on April 7, just a week before his 76th birthday.  His killers came to the Jesuit residence, dragged Father Frans out into the courtyard and shot him in cold blood.  Even if he had not been at home, it would not have been hard to find him:  He was the last Westerner in the besieged and brutalized city of Homs.  Since the Syrian civil war started, over 60,000 Christians have fled the city in the face of Islamist extremist massacres.  There are only a handful of Christians left, and many pleaded with Father Frans to leave.  But he refused, saying simply that a shepherd belonged with his flock, even if it has been decimated and scattered.

And where would he go?  Father Frans is Dutch, but he came to Syria 50 years ago.   He learned the language and served the people, both Christian and Muslim. Indeed, he was a great figure of cooperation between the faiths, organizing long-weekend hikes where hundreds of Christians and Muslims would spend days together exploring less well known areas of Syria.  He brought Christian and Muslim youth together in providing service to the disabled.  He taught Syrians how to be better Syrians, and to love Syria as he loved it.

No matter.  He is now dead, murdered because he refused to flee his home.  Shot because he was a Christian.  He is not alone.

"The scope and scale of real anti-Christian violence around the world is ... staggering," writes John Allen, author of The Global War on Christians.  "The high-end estimate for the number of Christians killed for their faith each year is around 100,000, while the low end is a few hundred.  That works out to somewhere between one new Christian martyr every hour, if the higher figure is to believed, and one every day."

The death toll includes far more lay Christians than clergy — most are people attempting nothing more than to live their faith and be left alone.  But priest-martyrs get more attention as they are public figures, and are often identified with a particular cause.

Father Frans was not provocative.  Simply to be who he was — that was sufficient provocation. 

One thinks of Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, a Warsaw priest who inspired tens of thousands with his "Masses for the Fatherland" and as a chaplain to Solidarity. On Oct. 19, 1984, he was kidnapped, beaten with unimaginable brutality, and thrown dead into the river laden with concrete blocks.  Pope John Paul had made the Church in Poland the principal resistance to communism, and this was payback.

One thinks of Blessed Pino Puglisi, a Palermo priest who campaigned tirelessly against the Mafia in a neighbourhood infested with it.  John Paul went to Sicily in May 1993 and delivered a scorching denunciation of the Mafia.  In July, the Mafia responded by bombing John Paul's own cathedral church in Rome.  Two months later, on Sept. 15, a Mafia assassin killed Puglisi outside his rectory.  "I have been expecting you," were the martyr-priest's last words.

And Father Frans, what provocative cause did he champion?  His current work was in collaboration with a Muslim charity, which would give him nine pounds of flour each week.  He would bake it into bread, giving a half a loaf to dozens of struggling families in Homs, most of them Muslim, for the Christians are almost all gone.

Father Frans was not provocative.  Simply to be who he was — that was sufficient provocation.  The night before he was martyred, he wrote a reflection for Good Friday and Easter.  What he wrote was superseded by his own death.

Do this in memory of me.  He did.




Father Raymond J. de Souza, "For the crime of faith." National Post, (Canada) April 17, 2014.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2014 National Post

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