The 75-year-old Van Der Lugt, an Arabic speaker, had lived in Syria for 50 years and refused to leave Homs even as hundreds of civilians were evacuated from rebel-held districts of Homs that have been besieged for more than a year by Assad’s forces. Van Der Lugt lived in the monastery in one of those neighborhoods, Bustan al-Diwan.
He appeared to have been directly targeted in the early morning attack, according to several people who were in the monastery when the attack occurred. A single gunman walked into the monastery, entered the garden and shot him in the head, said Rev. Ziad Hillal.
“I am truly shocked. A man of peace has been murdered,” Hillal said in a phone interview from Homs with the Vatican Radio.
A person who has lived in the monastery with the slain priest said he was buried in the convent’s garden late Monday. The person who passed the information of the priest’s burial on the phone did not want to be identified for fear of being targeted.
The motives for the attack were not known, and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the killing.
Father Van der Lugt was known for his efforts, not just to serve those suffering in Homs, but to alert the rest of the world about the plight of civilians in the besieged region.
“Hunger defeated us! We can see its signs drawn over the faces,” Van Der Lugt wrote on Jan. 25 on a Syrian Christian Facebook group page.
“People are wandering the streets screaming; We are starving, we need food!,” the priest wrote in a statement published in English and French. “We are living a scary reality. Human beings turn into wild animals living in the wild.”
The Jesuit also spoke with Catholic News Service in early February:
“There has been no food. People are hungry and waiting for help. No injured people have been allowed to leave.
“Families have been hoping to get out of the siege and out of the fighting between the two sides,” [Father Van der Lugt] told CNS by phone, through an interpreter.
“The wounded have not received proper treatment, so healing has been difficult. Newborns die very quickly because of a lack of milk,” he said. “There have been cases of death due to hunger and starvation.”