Gunmen have abducted, beaten and shot dead a Dutch Jesuit priest at a monastery in the war-ravaged Syrian city of Homs on Monday, the Vatican has said.
Father Frans van der Lugt, who was aged 75, had lived in Syria since 1966, after a brief period spent in Lebanon. He was also a psychotherapist and very involved in interreligious dialogue, Vatican Radio reported.
Vatican press spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said Van der Lugt "died as a man of peace, who with great courage in an extremely dangerous and difficult situation, wanted to remain faithful to the Syrian people to whom he had dedicated so many years of his life and spiritual service."
The governor of Homs Governorate, Talal al-Barazi, said the priest was killed by extremists from the Al-Nusra Front that is said to be a branch of Al-Qaeda operating in Syria.
In Homs in the 1980s, he opened Al Ard ("the land"), a center of spirituality built just outside the city that housed about 40 children with mental disabilities from nearby villages.
Writing on his Facebook page, the foreign minister of the Netherlands Frans Timmermans said, Van der Lugt "only brought good to Homs, was a Syrian among Syrians," and who "refused to abandon them even when it meant risking his own life."
In Homs in the 1980s, the Dutch priest launched Al Ard ("the land"), a center of spirituality built just outside the city. It housed about 40 children with mental disabilities from nearby villages.
In the last three years of war, the Van der Lugt lived in a monastery located in the old city, where civilians were besieged for many months by the regular army.
The clergyman had often lamented the lack of medicines, food and aid to the beleaguered civilians, calling urgently for an agreement to intervene on behalf of the civilians caught up in the conflict, reported Vatican Radio.
Lombard said, "Where people die, their faithful shepherds also die with them. In this time of great sorrow, we express our participation in prayer, but also great pride and gratitude for having had a brother so close to the most suffering in the testimony of the love of Jesus to the end."