11 ABOUNA FRANS will Never Die - Fr Cedric Prakash SJ

posted Apr 30, 2019, 6:21 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Apr 30, 2019, 6:21 AM ]
Miryiam (name changed) spoke in a steely voice, but with passion as tears welled in her eyes, "Yes, they killed him! But for me, Abouna Frans will never die!" Those words of a young lady are a fitting tribute to a person who meant so much to her and to many others. Her profound sentiments echo the feelings of hundreds of others who were impacted by Abouna Frans. "I went for retreats with him. He listened to my pain and brokenness; when I cried, he cried too. He was truly a Father to me!" She goes on and on narrating one incident after another- each time unfolding the holiness, the humanness, the sensitivity and the grace that were the hall-marks of a modern day saint.

Fr. Frans Van Der Lugt was brutally gunned down in Homs Syria, five years ago, on April 7, 2014. 'Abouna Frans', as he was lovingly called, was a Dutch Jesuit who was born on April 10, 1938 in The Hague. His father was a banker. In 1959, he entered the Society of Jesus and seven years later opted to serve as a Jesuit in the Middle East. With the exception of a short break to complete his doctorate in Psychology, he spent almost fifty years (from 1976) in Syria. He founded the Al-Ard institute in Homs, where handicapped children of all religions and ethnic groups found a warm and welcoming haven.

In 2011, when civil war erupted in Syria, he chose to remain in the country, among the people he loved, suffering the shortages and pains of the conflict, alongside both Muslims and Christians. As the fighting intensified, Fr Frans moved to the Jesuit residence in Boustan –Diwan (the inner city). From there he shared the suffering of the inhabitants, refusing to leave, even as that part of the city continued to be bombed from all sides. His centre became a home for those who had nowhere to go: Muslims and Christians; old and young. It was a 'safe place' for them and Fr Frans was their refuge. His message to all was one of hope: of mercy and reconciliation, of justice and of peace!

The Jesuits of Netherlands and Flanders recently produced an animated film on Abouna Frans. The film begins when he is being killed and then he gradually looks back into his life. In the film he makes a powerful appeal to the whole world: only love triumphs and it must come first!

Abouna Frans was an extraordinary person: fully human, fully alive. He was warm and compassionate to all; to the youth, he was an inspirer and motivator, who never tired of hiking, trekking and long walks in the beauty of nature; to the elderly, he was a friend and mentor; little children loved to cling to his long legs; for Muslims and Christians, for atheists and agnostics, for those belonged to different sects and rites, he was a bridge-builder, a reconciler, a person who could draw the best out of them; for the spiritually weak and lost, he was a source of strength and a patient listener. He was a true shepherd, always in the midst of his sheep, who smelled of them. They simply loved him. He had the courage of his convictions and he communicated this unequivocally.

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