Address of Fr Arturo Sosa, on the occasion of the commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr. Frans van der Lugt (Homs, 6 April 2019)
Your Eminence, dear bishops, dear Jesuit companions, dear fathers, dear brothers and sisters,
Being here with you in Homs on the eve of the 5th anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr Frans van der Lugt is a particularly important and moving moment for me. I did not hesitate for a moment to accept the invitation you extended to me. To come to Syria, to know this place where Fr. Frans lived for many years, to be one of the so many pilgrims who give thanks for what his life has meant, even without knowing him, was for me a wish, indeed a burning desire ever since I first heard about him.
Fr Frans, referring to his vocation and call as a Jesuit, wrote in his notes, “The human person fascinated me; I wanted to meet him more deeply and I realized this was only possible by emptying oneself, by giving oneself to meet the other. However, this gift-of-self constitutes a whole journey, because at any time one always has something more, something else to give”.
During the homily of his first Mass, the day after his ordination, on 30 May 1971, Fr Frans declared, “It is only when my hands are empty that I can really receive the other; to fill my hands with him, to give him space in my arms, to call him by his name, speak his language. (...) I found all this in one who fascinates me to the depths of my being, a man who was able to live simply, with empty hands: Jesus of Nazareth. Knowing how to live with empty hands, he always made room in his life for his Father and for his fellow human beings”.
These words were not only prophetic; they constituted his daily pattern of life, his philosophy, his existential attitude as a disciple of Jesus-Christ. He loved this country, Syria, and the many and diverse people with whom he was in contact for almost 50 years, and to whom he gave himself by speaking their language, receiving everything from them and presenting himself to them with empty hands. His whole life was in perfect harmony and in tune with these principles, and his martyrdom was the natural result of all that he had experienced.
During the 2 years of voluntary imprisonment here, between 2012 and 2014, Fr Frans gave himself to everyone, enduring famine and sometimes persecution. He refused to leave this place while others were still confined there. He had to give up everything except his hope and faith in life and resurrection. Here is what he wrote in 2012 about the forty or so Muslim refugees he welcomed into the Jesuit community for a number of months, “These people have a natural belief in Easter. Under the bombardments, they fled. They lost everything, but they did not lose their belief in life. They can still smile, be helpful, and make their children happy. Naked and with empty hands, they passed through death towards the promise of life. Their faith was in no way superficial, but broke out from a spring of life which remains deeply in their land”.
My predecessor as the Superior of the Society of Jesus, Fr Adolfo Nicolás, replied to a question addressed to him in June 2014 asking if there were still contemporary Jesuit saints. He mentioned the name of Fr Frans first. He said, “Fr Frans was aware that he was headed for martyrdom. He could have left this place and he was under pressure to do so; but he chose to share the suffering of his people. That’s why he was killed. His death was a supreme testimony”. 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.
May the Lord give us the grace, through the intercession of Fr Frans, to continue our mission with courage, determination and hope, especially in this country where there have been so many trials and so much suffering and where the challenges of reconciliation and peace continue to be so urgent and immense.