L'Arche Al-Safina co-founder Father Frans van der Lugt killed in Syria



L'Arche Al-Safina co-founder Frans van der Lugt, a 75 year-old Jesuit priest, was shot dead in the Syrian city of Homs on April 7. 

A trained psychotherapist, van der Lugt had been living in Syria since 1966. In 1990, he opened Al-Ard, a spiritual center outside of Homs where children and young people with intellectual disabilities lived and were able to work the land. In 1995 he helped found L'Arche Al-Safina with Rima Mousalli, as well as Abdul Messih Atiyeh, who had helped him to create Al-Ard.

Last February, "Father Frans," as he was known, told the AFP that he considered Syria to be his home and refused to leave the embattled city of Homs as 1,400 residents were evacuated during a UN operation. "The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties," he said.

In a video, he said in Arabic: "Christians and Muslims are going through a difficult and painful time and we are faced with many problems. The greatest of these is hunger. People have nothing to eat. There is nothing more painful than watching mothers searching for food for children in the streets...I will not accept that we die of hunger. I do not accept that we drown in a sea of hunger, letting the waves of death drag us under. We love life, we want to live. And we do not want to sink in a sea of pain and suffering."

On April 7, a man came into his house, took him outside and shot him, reported Jan Stuyt, secretary of the Dutch Jesuit Order, who added that van der Lugt would be buried in Syria, "according to his wishes."

Father Frans "died as a man of peace, who with great courage in an extremely dangerous and difficult situation, wanted to remain faithful to the Syrian people to who he had dedicated so many years of his life and spiritual service," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi. "In this time of great sorrow, we express great pride and gratitude for having a brother so close to the most suffering," he added.

"Abouna Frans, (Father Frans), was the instigator of the creation of L'Arche in Damascus. For a long time he was the community's priest, celebrating the Eucharist like one would celebrate a feast... with fantasy and a communicative happiness," remembers Patrick Fontaine, L'Arche International Leader. "In his role as celebrant, he would do his utmost to disappear, preferring to highlight Ruba, Gaby and Youssef's gifts of prophecy.... as well as the gifts of all the assistants and board members, who he would invite each year to a long and countless walking retreat in the Syrian desert... he was loved like a spiritual mentor, a father, a brother..."