Editorial — Jesus’ simple message of love

If you look in the dictionary for the definition of the word “martyr,” this is what you’ll find:

“One who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce a religious principle.” Or secondly, “One who makes great sacrifices for a cause or principle and endures great suffering.”

The martyrs of the church are many; we’ve heard their stories for years in classes or in our readings, but just in case you missed the recent news stories, you should be aware that another martyr, another courageous, principled, person of God has been added to the list of church heros — added to the list of martyrs.

He is Father Frans Van der Lugt, a 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit who was assassinated in Syria because he refused to leave the homeless and the helpless who needed him. As a result of his benevolence, as a result of his holiness, Father Van der Lugt was, according to a Catholic News Service (CNS) report earlier this month, “beaten by armed men and killed with two bullets to the head.”

The news was sent to Jesuit headquarters in Rome from the Jesuits’ Middle East province, the report said.

Other reports said the heinous killing of Father Van der Lugt had a profound and sorrowful effect on Pope Francis, who called his martyred friend “my confrere” — his colleague — in the work of the Lord.

And it brought to the mind of the pope — and should bring to the mind of the rest of us — the violence and indiscriminate killing that continues unabated in Syria, where for months people have attempted to rebel against the oppressive regime of dictator Bashar Al-Assad while the rest of the world looks on, apparently helpless in the face of the horror.

The Jesuit priest’s death, Pope Francis said, “filled me with deep sadness and made me think again of all the people who suffer and are dying in that martyred country.”

The priest had chosen to remain in Homs, one of the Syrian cities struck most viciously by the Assad regime. Father Van der Lugt refused to leave, reports said, because he wanted to help Syria’s suffering people. He wanted to do what little he could to ease the pain of “Christians and Muslims — anyone in need,” said Father Giuseppe Bellucci, head of the Jesuits’ press office.

The general superior of the Jesuits, Father Adolfo Nicolas, called Father Van der Lugt’s martyrdom his “great sacrifice.”

It was a brutal assassination “of a man who dedicated his life to the poorest and neediest, especially in Homs, and who did not want to abandon them even at times of great danger,” Father Nicolas said.

In a statement published by CNS, the Dutch Jesuit was said to have always spoken of peace and reconciliation. “And he opened his doors to all those asking help without distinction of race or religion,” the statement read. “He said ‘I don’t see Muslims or Christians but only human beings. I am the only priest and the only foreigner in this place, but I don’t feel like a foreigner.’ ”

Prior to his death, in a YouTube posting that quickly became known around the world, Father Van der Lugt appealed for aid for the people of his besieged city, CNS reported. That same report verified the priest’s descriptions in his YouTube account of what was happening in Homs.

The United Nations supervised the evacuation of about 1,400 people from the city in early February, CNS reported, and those arriving in Jordan confirmed what Father Van der Lugt had been saying in his YouTube posting and to anyone who would listen: people, especially young children, were — and still are — starving to death.

The statement also noted that members of his order were praying “that his sacrifice would bring the fruit of peace and that it would be a further stimulus for silencing the weapons and setting aside hatred.”

If the good priest’s actions did little more than cause Assad to quit using poisonous gas on his own people, that would be progress. But there seems to be little of it.

Martyrs, however, never give up, even in the face of such impossible chances as those that exist in Syria, a nation being destroyed bit by bit by its own leader and by those who oppose him. Father Van der Lugt was an oasis of peace and goodness in a wasteland of violence, death and destruction, and one can only marvel at his courage, his dedication and his faith.

Pope Francis has deepened his prayer for the people of Syria, he said in one news report. And in a message from Vatican City, he made a simple plea to the world:

“From my heart, I ask you all to join my prayer for peace in Syria and in the region,” he said. “And I launch a heartfelt appeal to Syrian leaders and to the international community: Silence the weapons! Put an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction!”

We have just celebrated the death and resurrection of the greatest of martyrs. Let us all pray that people of all faiths will realize the veracity of the message Jesus of Nazareth brought to us during his brief time here: Love one another.

It is surely what Father Frans Van der Lugt wanted us to do, and he, too, gave his life living out Jesus’ exhortation.

Love one another.

Glenn Rutherford
Record Editor

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