In comments made following his general audience address, Pope Francis lamented the killing of a Jesuit priest in Syria, and appealed to the country’s leaders to foster peace and respect human dignity. “Please, silence your weapons, and end the violence! No more war! No more destruction!” the Pope exclaimed in comments made April 9. Fr. Frans van der Lugt S.J., aged 75 and a native of the Netherlands, was killed April 7 after he was beaten and shot dead by gunmen in the city of Homs, where he was caring for the fewer than 30 Christians who remain in the Old City district, which has been blockaded by the Syrian regime for nearly two years. The priest had worked in Syria since 1967. He was a psychotherapist and was involved in interreligious dialogue. In the 1980s, he built a spirituality center in Homs which housed some 40 children with mental disabilities. Speaking to pilgrims in Italian, the pontiff described Fr. van der Lugt as a man who “always did good to all, with gratuity and love,” and who was “loved and admired by both Christians and Muslims.” “His brutal murder has filled me with profound pain and made me think again of the many people who suffer and die in that martyred country - my beloved Syria! - which has already for too long been gripped by bloody conflict, which continues to reap death and destruction.” Pope Francis also expressed that the priest’s violent death makes him think “of the many people who have been abducted, Christians and Muslims, Syrians and those from other countries, among whom there are bishops and priests.” “We ask the Lord that they will quickly return to their loved ones and to their families and communities,” he prayed. The pontiff once again entreated the Syrian leaders to work and pray for peace. He also asked that there might be a greater “respect for humanitarian law, care for the people who need humanitarian assistance and may the people reach the desired peace through dialogue and reconciliation.” Fr. van der Lugt had often lamented the lack of medicine, food, and aid to civilians trapped in Homs by the Syrian regime's siege, and repeatedly called for intervention on the civilians’ behalf. In a statement issued by the Vatican, spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi reflected that the slain priest “died as a man of peace” and acted “with great courage in an extremely dangerous and difficult situation.” Given the siege, his body cannot be recovered.
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