Father Frans van der Lugt, a Jesuit priest who had spent the last 40 years in Syria, was killed on Monday morning. He was dragged from his monastery, beaten and shot through the head. It is a great loss.
I had the privilege of speaking to father Frans at length in February and was impressed by his humbleness and courage. He truly believed there was a peaceful way out for the besieged old city of Homs, and Syria. He refused to abandon his monastery and its treasures and relics, but most of all the people living beside him. He regularly visited the activists who put me in touch with him, and kept in good spirits. He had no fear of hunger or the hardships of the future; he had faith in the compassion of humanity.
That faith has been betrayed, it is unclear by whom. Although the regime has been quick to blame Jahbat al Nusra, he told me that he enjoyed cordial relations with the group, who lived just around the corner. Yet the besieged area was changing as hunger took its toll, and following the evacuation more extremist elements remained. Activists were equally fast in pointing a finger at regime agents. Father Frans released a heart wrenching appeal on YouTube in January to break the siege.
“We we love life, we want to live!” he said then. Yet it was not hunger, but violence that killed him.
Although Father Frans is gone, he was buried in Syria, there are still 1,000 people left in the besieged area of Homs. The last time Father Frans’ family spoke to him, three weeks ago, he sounded weaker. “The hunger was taking its toll on him” his brother Godfried told me.
The same hunger is still taking its toll on those remaining. Many of them are fighters, others are civilians who were unwilling to leave, among them 24 Christians. Their most vocal, and internationally appealing, advocate has been killed. Let us hope they will not consequently be forgotten.
Find the piece I co-authored for the Economist here: http://www.economist.com/blogs/pomegranate/2014/04/syrias-war
The interview I did in February ran as part of a piece in the Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/inside-the-siege-of-homs-in-syria-there-is-hardly-anything-left-there-is-only-ruin-9129586.html