Jesuit priest murdered five years ago in Syria, may be beatified

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Jesuit priest murdered five years ago in Syria, may be beatified

By Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner/ la-croix.com

Father Ziad Hilal, a Syrian Jesuit, has published a book about his experiences during the past eight years of war in Syria.
The book, entitled Homs, l'espérance obstinée (Homs: Obstinate Hope), is shortlisted for the literary prize awarded by l'Œuvre d'Orient, an association dedicated to helping Christians in the East.

In his book, Father Ziad Hilal pays homage to numerous Syrian victims, as well as to the Jesuit priest Frans van der Lugt, who was killed in Homs on April 7, 2014.

La Croix: Why have you based the title of your book about everyday life during the war in Syria on the word 'hope'?
Father Ziad Hilal: Even though we ourselves have not yet been able to see the fruition, we hope that the work that we have already begun in education towards peace and reconciliation, and towards the purification of memory, will allow the new generation to experience a god life.

The psalmist sang, "I will sing of the Lord's great love forever… I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself" (Psalm 89). It is crucial to place this hope for Syria at the center of all that we do.

How did you write about the terrible conflict that has ravaged your country for eight long years?
Each of the 30 chapters tells a story, which I experienced with others. What I wanted to to do in this book is to recount what the media cannot show or describe what we Syrian Christians and Muslims of Homs – experienced during the siege of Homs and during the war.

I describe the realities of life in Homs: our suffering, our joy, our isolation, how we eat, and how we find water and electricity. I also describe how we have tried since the beginning of the war to respond to the humanitarian crisis and the immense need for education.

I demonstrate the role and strength of the Church, of Christian churches, in helping the Syrian people. We do not want the new generation to be a generation of war but rather a generation of peace. For this to happen, we have to combat religious fundamentalism and the discourse of hatred.

On April 7, it will five years since your fellow Jesuit Frans van der Lugt was murdered in the monastery garden. What was his role during the crisis?
Father Frans was a remarkable man of peace and reconciliation. It was thanks to him that our community sheltered Christian and Muslim families, exemplifying the unity in the country. He succeeded in making our house an oasis that flowered in a world of violence and destruction.

As a priest and psychoanalyst, he listened to others as a fellow human being. He was concerned about helping people to overcome the trauma of the war.

Father Frans' murder evoked reactions from all Syrians. It is rare that Muslims and Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox, find themselves gathered around the same figure: this is what happened. He is not only a Christian martyr: he is also a Syrian martyr!

How will the Company of Jesus celebrate his legacy?
At the beginning of April, a small delegation consisting of the Superior General. Father Arturo Sosa, his assistant general who was our provincial superior when Father Frans was killed, and the postulator for his cause for beatification, Father Pascual Cebollada, will go to Homs.

According to the rules of the Church, it is necessary to wait for five years after the death of someone before introducing his or her case for beatification. It is time now to begin the process.

As for me, I will be in Germany with Syrian refugees of all religions who also wish to pay homage to Father Frans. They hope to organize a two-day nature walk, like the ones that Father Frans used to organize with them in order for them to get to know the country and to encourage unity among communities.

We will also celebrate mass, in communion with our brothers in Homs.

What do you think of the news of the Islamic State's defeat in Baghouz, in the north of Syria?
We feel a little calmer since the defeat of ISIS. This fanatical group, which wanted to impose its way of life – of dressing, of eating etc. – on the entire Syrian population, has wreaked havoc. Dividing the world between believers and infidels: that is ISIS's method, and it's our nightmare in Syria.

However, we also know that military defeat does not make the ideology disappear. People who were members of ISIS, like those who are close to Al Qaeda, still think that those who do not think like them do not deserve to live. There is still an enormous amount of work to do!

I have heard no news about Father Paolo Dall'Oglio and the other hostages, and this worries me. Now, the matter is in the hands of the Kurds and the Americans.

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 13:53
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