Frans van der Lugt SJ: a message of hope
7th April marks the fifth year since the Dutch Jesuit Frans van der Lugt was murdered in Homs, Syria. He died at the age of 75. To honour Father Frans van der Lugt SJ, the Jesuits from the Netherlands and Flanders made an animated film about him. It was recorded in 9 languages, including Dutch, English and Arabic.
In the film Van der Lugt is speaking for the last time. He makes an urgent appeal to every human being to never give the last word to hatred, but to fight for love. "To my last sigh I hoped that hatred, struggle and pain would stop."
In the months before the murder, Frans van der Lugt SJ called on the international community to end the war and send food for the Syrian population. His penetrating video messages were shown worldwide in many newsreels. His brutal death came as a shock.
In the animation, the fictional voice of Jesuit Van der Lugt looks back on Fr Frans's abrupt end of life: on one hand he has hope, on the other there is his own death. "As if everything has stopped. And yet it goes on. Yes, it goes on." That was his firm conviction. For: "it is love that continues. Nobody has to sit back and watch."
Father Frans was known in Syria for his hiking. For days he travelled with young people through rough terrain and covered substantial distances. Borders were explored, physically and mentally. They danced, sang, talked, and reflected. Thousands of young people, Muslims and Christians, took part in these walks. In Germany and the Netherlands in recent years Syrian youngsters have organised various treks under the name of “Frans' hike”.
Before the civil war started, Van der Lugt SJ worked in Al Ard, a centre set up by him for the care of disabled children. There were vineyards and Father Frans offered psychotherapy. He had to leave the centre when the conflict made the work impossible. Al Ard has suffered a lot in the intervening years. At the moment it is still too dangerous to consider reconstruction.
"Despite the hunger and violence, I never thought about leaving our besieged neighbourhood in Homs," Fr Francis says in the animation film. "Our neighbourhood is no bigger than a square kilometre. Yet Muslims and Christians from all backgrounds live together peacefully. Our way of living here, this was the Syria I knew. I couldn't give up on that.” That sums up the Jesuit's spirituality: what drove him was love for Syria and for the Syrian people. Although he was a Catholic priest, he made no distinction between Christians and Muslims. He tried to help everyone and spread a message of hope.
Fr Nikolaas Sintobin SJ, project coordinator, reflecting on the martyrdom of father Frans van der Lugt SJ in Homs said that it was "a square kilometer that became the beating heart of the world."
Father Francis lived in a besieged part of the Syrian city of Homs. While bombs struck, people around him died of hunger. What began as a siege of a few days at the most, ended in months of siege. Less than a week after the murder of Van der Lugt, the inhabitants of Homs were able to leave the besieged district under the guidance of the United Nations.
Five years after that tragic event, Jesuits are living again in Homs. There are currently four Jesuits living in the house where Van der Lugt sj was murdered and where he is buried. Many people come to pray at his grave. Although the streets and buildings around the Jesuit community have been seriously damaged, the Jesuits organise homework classes and hundreds of young people and adults use the church. Under their leadership, a large group of 'Foi et Lumière', for young people with disabilities, flourishes in Homs.
During a visit to the Syrian city on 7th April, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, said: “I would be happy, God willing, to work for the opening of the cause of Fr Frans van der Lugt so that he may serve as a model of self-giving and holiness for this country, Syria, and for the whole Church."
About the animation film:
Animator: Rens Wegerif
Illustrator: Jedi Noordegraaf - Studio Vandaar.
Writer monologue: Rick Timmermans
Project coordinator: Nikolaas Sintobin SJ
About the music: Syrian percussionist Modar Salama composed a large part of the soundtrack. Salama experienced the civil war in Syria at first hand. He knew Frans van der Lugt SJ personally.