[ by Charles Cameron — from one Jesuit to another across centuries ]
The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote these lines in his incomparable poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, in 1875 — an ode on what was for the poet a deeply moving current event, though the world was not ripe for such a poem, and it was not until 1918, almost thirty years after his death, that the poem was finally published:
Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the Life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance…
The poem is dedicated to five Franciscan nuns drowned in a shipwreck as they fled the Prussian anti-Catholicism of the Falk Laws for safe haven in England — but his words apply with equal force to his fellow Jesuit, Francis van der Lugt, killed and now buried in his garden in Homs.
A quick round up of blog and press reports will give us something of the flavor of the man, and include some pertinent details along the way.
In a blog post titled The good fight ends, Dutch Catholic blogger Mark de Vries writes:
An exemplary icon of steadfast dedication to those in need is no more. Father Frans van der Lugt was abducted, shot and killed this morning in Homs, Syria, the city and country that was his home for more than four decades. The Dutch Jesuit priest did not think of leaving his home and the community he was a part of – consisting not only of the few Christians in the city, but also, especially in later years, of his Muslim neighbours in the widest sense – as civil war engulfed Syria and cut off the part of Homs where Fr. Frans lived from the rest of the world.
The Telegraph reported:
During more than three years of war, Father Francis Van der Lugt, 75, had insisted on remaining in the destroyed Old City of Homs, risking starvation and near constant shellfire, until every last civilian could be evacuated from the district.
The Jesuit priest – of the same order as the Pope – had helped to keep the plight of the Old City’s residents in the international spotlight by writing letters to his church order in Holland, and posting video messages from inside his monastery in the besieged Bustan al-Diwan district.
The DC Laus Deo blog:
Christians used to make up 10% of the Syrian population before the Civil War, but Christians have been brutalized for their faith during the conflict Fr. van der Lugt reasoned that he was the only priest remaining to minister to his people so how could he leave.
The Washington Post reported:
The Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans called Fr van der Lugt “a Syrian among Syrians” who refused to abandon his adopted people even when it meant risking his own life…
Khaled Erksoussi, head of operations at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said of him:
He was one of the very few people who could cross the front lines in Homs. Whoever killed him is hindering any effort for peace. Whoever killed him knew he had good relations with almost everybody.
For Pope Francis this was the death of a fellow priest, a fellow Jesuit, and a namesake of his papal name. He spoke of his feelings at a General Audience in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday:
Last Monday in Homs, Syria, Fr Frans van der Lugt one of my Dutch Jesuit confreres was assassinated at the age 75. He arrived in Syria some 5o years ago and always did good to everyone generously and with love. He was therefore loved and highly esteemed by Christians and Muslims.
His brutal murder has deeply distressed me and has made me think again of the many people who are suffering and dying in that tormented country, my beloved Syria, which for too long has been the prey of a bloody conflict that continues to reap death and destruction. I also think of the many people who have been kidnapped, Christians and Muslims, Syrians and those from other countries, including bishops and priests. Let us ask the Lord that they may soon return to their loved ones and to their families and communities.
From my heart I invite you all to join me in prayer for peace in Syria and the region, and I launch a heartfelt appeal to the Syrian leaders and to the international community: Please, silence the weapons, put an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction! May humanitarian laws be respected, may the people who need humanitarian assistance be cared for and may the desired peace be attained through dialogue and reconciliation.
Let us ask our Mother Mary, Queen of Peace, to give us this gift for Syria, and let us all pray together. Ave Maria…
And he made this appeal, this prayer to the Virgin beloved of Christians and Muslims alike, after offering a short discourse on wisdom:
In the Bible we are told that Solomon, at the time of his coronation as King of Israel, had asked for the gift of wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 3:9). And wisdom is precisely this: it is the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God. It is simply this: it is to see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, everything through God’s eyes. This is wisdom. Sometimes we see things according to our liking or according to the condition of our heart, with love or with hate, with envy…. No, this is not God’s perspective. Wisdom is what the Holy Spirit works in us so as to enable us to see things with the eyes of God. This is the gift of wisdom.
To see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, Muslims, Christians, everyone and everything through God’s eyes — this is wisdom.
Fr. Francis’ own words, sent to colleagues to alert the world:
We refuse to die of hunger in Homs. We Christians and Muslims love life and want to live.
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 their children in the streets.
Today as so often, Christians are killed, Muslims are killed, innocents are killed and not so innocents — for as the saying goes, all have fallen short of the glory — yet there are those among us too who have loved, fallibly yet with strong assurance, loved even those who would kill them, those such as Fr. Francis, such as Fr. de Chergé and the monks of Tibhirine…
There’s a stubborn grace that comes from long love of neighbor, a grace that stands its ground under fire, that will not budge, for in its simplicity it shares the hardships of others in its own flesh, undivided and inseparable from its place in time, its neighborhood.
Fr. Francis van der Lugt did not budge. This is love in full bloom, the rest is tentative.
Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the Life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his