ACN Canada


Russia: “I am God’s witness, not a public prosecutor.”

09.05.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Pastoral care, Russia

The Orthodox priest Igor Pokrovskij has been involved in prisoners’ pastoral care for 16 years. In this time he has baptized almost 400 prisoners. 

Eva-Maria Kolmann, ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada

Seven-hundred thousand prisoners are being held in the 755 prisons and labour camps throughout the vast territory of the Russian Federation.  When FatherWerenfried van Straaten, the founder of “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN), travelled to Siberia in 1994 at the age of 81, he visited such a prison. He promised the prisoners from the bottom of his heart that he would pray for them every day, and he gave them the flowers he himself had received. He wanted to show them that they were not alone and that there was also love and joy for them.

Father Werenfried believed for the whole of his life that people “are better than we think.”  It was a special joy for him to see how God’s kingdom spread to the prisons by way of a religious book or radio program and souls who appeared to be lost were saved and enlightened.

ACN supports prison pastoral work in Russia by helping to build chapels and by supplying religious literature. Peter Humeniuk, the Head of the charity’s Russian Section, explained: “The Orthodox Church is one of the few institutions in Russia performing good work for the prisoners. Not only the chapels, but the religious books are received with much gratitude as well, and provide great comfort in this harsh environment. It is wonderful that people find their way to God by this means.”


The most important challenge in prison pastoral work

One of the priests doing prison pastoral work is Father Igor Pokrovskij. He reported on the beginnings of this apostolate in Nizhny Novgorod: “When we started our pastoral work in the prison in 1998, we only had a small room in the washhouse to pray in. We bought some paint and coated the walls. Prisoners who were artistically talented then painted icons on the walls. In a separate chamber I heard confession. I soon noticed many changes in the souls. Six months later a group of them already met separately for morning and evening prayers. When I came on Sunday to celebrate the Holy Liturgy they had prepared themselves for confession and Holy Communion during the week by fasting and praying.” Prisoners are also responsible for sexton duties and good order in the chapel. This is a task that demands a high degree of dependability.




The most important challenge in prison pastoral work is in his experience to get the prisoners to confess their guilt in order to change their lives effectively. Many are afraid to admit their crime even to the priest. “Then I say to them: I am God’s witness, not a public prosecutor. I have the authority to absolve you of your sins in His name. But to enable me to do this you must confess your guilt before God. This is essential if your soul is to be healed from sin.”



The prison where Father Igor works now has a proper chapel. Over the course of time the priest has baptized almost 400 prisoners, though he doesn’t know the exact number. Many of the former prison inmates Father Igor cared for over the years have now been released. He is still in contact with many of them. He has married them and baptized their children, and many come to church Sunday after Sunday. “We had someone here from a local authority who was serving time for corruption. He had previously been hostile to the Church. If someone wanted to build a place of worship in his district, he would refuse permission. Since his release he has been seen regularly at divine service.”


Finding their way back to the right path

Some people who have successfully built up a new career also support the Church financially and have become genuine benefactors. Others show their affection in the form of small gestures: “We had someone in the prison – his name was Aleksandr – who was serving time for manslaughter. He was also a talented artist. Aleksandr was converted in prison and was released early for good conduct. He married, moved to a village, now has three children and every year at Christmas he brings me two geese.”

There are also prisoners however, who only come to the chapel to obtain a certificate of good conduct or other advantages. But they can’t pull the wool over this experienced priest’s eyes: “I recognize such people straight away. You can see that they are deceitful.” Father Igor even had a case where an inmate threatened to kill him. But basically his experience has been positive: “In fact many people who have offended are well disposed towards the Church. In my experience, in their sin they think a lot about the meaning of life. People whose lives run smoothly often think they don’t need God.” Although it may appear surprising at first glance, it’s what Jesus said in the Gospel: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”



Father Igor regrets that some people who in fact have a many talents and gifts which they could employ for the good of society go off the rails and make wrongful use of their intelligence and abilities. He attributes this to the spiritual vacuum which reigns in many people. The time in prison with pastoral care is an opportunity for many to find their way back to the right path.





PRESS RELEASE : Syria – “The suffering of the people will become even greater”

07.05.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Aid to refugees, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Lebanon, Syria

Aid to the Church in Need grants a further 622 000 dollars in emergency relief to war victims and refugees


AED International

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Montreal, Wednesday May 7th, 2014 – The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has granted a further 425 000 dollarsemergency relief for war victims in Syria. This will help in particular refugees and distressed Christian families in Homs, Aleppo and the “Valley of Christians”.  In addition it has been resolved to donate a further 197 000 dollars for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The Head of the Middle East Section at ACN, Father Andrzej Halemba, fears that the situation in Syria will continue to deteriorate and that the war atrocities will increase. “The suffering of the people in Syria, and especially of the Christians, will become even greater,” he said, adding that a lot more aid would be necessary.


About 140,000 people have lost their lives in the war. There are now more than 9 million Syrians on the run, of which 2 million are fleeing abroad and 7 million are still in the country. Several million dwellings have been destroyed in the war, as have thousands of businesses and companies, and also fields which provided many people with the means of subsistence.

Since the start of the war in March 2011 ACN has granted aid of around 5,3 millions dollarsin Syria and for Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. Since January 2014 a total of 961 000 dollars in emergency relief has been granted for war victims and refugees from Syria.


Journey with ACN – Israel

02.05.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, Holy Land, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Israel, Journey with ACN, Pastoral aid

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday our weekly newsletter regularly posted to our blog and designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and various projects we have been brought into being together with ACN benefactors.

This week again:   Israel



“Church in the heart of Jewish society”

Pastoral centre for migrants opened in Tel Aviv – Patriarch Twal: “Thanks to ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ for its help”

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

With a ceremonial pontifical mass the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, inaugurated the first Catholic pastoral centre of migrants in Israel on Saturday in Tel Aviv.  Those present included the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, and the Ambassador of the Philippines in Israel.  Twal expressly thanked the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) for supporting the project. The patriarch’s own words were: “I wish the benefactors of ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ could be here to share the people’s joy at the new centre. I thank all donors from my heart on their behalf. May God bless them.”

Father David Neuhaus SJ, co-ordinator of the Patriarchate for migrants’ pastoral care and initiator of the project, thanked “Aid to the Church in Need” for its support. “It would have been impossible to found the ‘Our Lady of Valor’ Pastoral Centre without the generous help of various charities, including as always ‘Aid to the Church in Need’.’ Aid to the Church in Need’ has accompanied the development of the Hebrew-speaking Catholic Church in Israel very closely and is now also helping the migrants. We are particularly grateful to ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ and pray for all benefactors.”



Father Neuhaus stressed that the Church of the Holy Land, which had to date been dominated mainly by the Arabic-speaking Palestinian Christians, was becoming much more diverse in its composition. “The migrants are making the Christian presence more complex since many of them come from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe and live within the Israeli-Jewish, Hebrew-speaking society. Although they remain on the margins of this society, they identify with it and their children grow up speaking Hebrew. The Church is now called upon to establish itself where it previously had no presence: in the Jewish quarter where the migrants live, in the heart of Israeli-Jewish society,” Neuhaus explained.

The people there are now very grateful for the new centre. Lourdes, a Filipino woman working as a home nurse, is committed to helping during church services in the community. On the edge of the inauguration ceremony she told ACN: “For us the centre is home. Here we meet our compatriots and we can pray. I’m happy we have it.”

The new pastoral centre in the south of Tel Aviv serves the community of Catholic migrants in Israel, who comprise mainly guest workers from the Philippines, India and Sri Lanka, as well as asylum seekers from Sub-Saharan Africa. The number of guest workers has increased sharply since, following the Second Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation after 2000, most of the Palestinians who had been working previously in Israel were no longer granted a work permit. Many of the jobs they performed previously have now been taken over by guest workers.

Today about 40,000 Filipinos alone live in Israel with limited-term employment contracts. Like Lourdes, they work mostly in nursing occupations.  The Church sees the catechetical instruction and cultivation of a religious identity among migrant children as a special challenge. They attend Hebrew-speaking schools and receive no religious instruction there. With the help of “Aid to the Church in Need” a number of Hebrew-language books have therefore been published for religious instruction outside school.


PRESS RELEASE : Vatican – Two Missionaries of Love to be canonized

25.04.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Father Werenfried van Straaten, Lebanon, Madagascar

Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translation by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Montreal, Friday April 25, 2014 – On Sunday April 27, in Saint Peter’s Square, millions of the faithful will wittness to the unfolding of the canonization of two Popes:  John XXIII and John Paul II. Considered by many as boundless and timeless Missionaries of Love, they devoted themselves to the mission of the Church, one of peace of earth, for peace is the fruit of love.


They reformed the Church…

Through historical gestures, both reformed the Church. John XXIII, through the Second Vatican Council and with his encyclical on peace “Pacem in Terris,” which dispensed a teaching addressing for the first time not only Catholics, but also “all men and women of good will.”  He always considered faith and humanity in relationship with God and with His Love.  “Man,” he said, “is never greater than when he kneels.”

As for John Paul II, he provoked the collapseof communism and overcame the divisions in Europe.   He reconciled the Church with Judaism and faith with science.  He promoted and advanced reconciliation with the Orthodox Church, stimulated dialogue between religions, launched several peace initiatives and raised consciousness about the value of the family always listening attentively to human rights issues in many regions around the world.  He taught that “war is always a defeat of humanity.”

MARIE-CLAUDE COMMUNIQUÉJohn Paul II is also the father of World Youth Days (WYD).  On this subject, Marie-Claude Lalonde, director of ACN Canada, recalls her participation in WYD Toronto in 2002: “When hearing hundreds of thousands of young people cheering for Pope John Paul II, I realized the extent to which this event was a planetary one, and how the Pontiff was considered to be ‘a star’ by the Media.   But this,” she added, “did not prevent him from becoming a solid rock, it was so evident that he defended the truth, without compromise, with love.”

…and encouraged ACNCANONISATION 2B

Both played an important role for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) by encouraging its founder Father Werenfried to go elsewhere in the world.  In recalling a conversation he had with Pope John XXIII who had entrusted him with Latin America, the founder said: “When I spoke with Pope John XXIII, he always had a spirited response reserved.  However, once, he became very serious.  ‘Father,’ he said to me, ‘why do you think only of Eastern Europe?  Do not forget the need of the Church on the vastest continent is Catholic, help Latin America too.’ And this is how we began working in a new continent.”


Whereas on the subject of John Paul II, who entrusted him with Russia and the Orthodox Church, Father Werenfried liked to remember among many memories with the Holy Father, the one where he expressed his gratitude after more than 50 years of the Charity’s existence in these words: “In the half-century history of the ecclesiastical charity, you have brought a moving contribution (…) the world does not hear these Christians who suffer in silence.  One must have a heart awakened to the suffering of those whose voice cannot succeed to break the barriers to get to you.  You collect offerings; you bring them to those who wait, assuring them that their brothers have not abandoned them.  For all this, I express to you all of my gratitude… all of this is written in the Book of Life.”

Today, ACN supports notably construction projects for a church consecrated to John XXIII in Toamasina, in Madagascar, as well as the pastoral centre for youth named after John Paul II in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.  It is with these two Popes that the Charity took on a great breadth, through prayer, sacrifice and creative fidelity.  They who were so long and so often on their knees before the altar, will now themselves, be raised unto the altar.

Central Africa A priest assasinated – Easter plunged into mourning

24.04.2014 in ACN Canada, Central Africa, Persecution of Christians

By Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Montreal, Thursday April 24, 2014 –  It is with much sorrow that ACN has learned of the assassination of Father Christ Forman Wilibona in Paoua, northern Central Africa. On Friday April 18, while on his way home by motorbike, he was seemingly thrown down and likely the victim of mutilations.

The priest, who was a parish priest in the diocese of Bossangoa was buried on-site by local villagers.  His murderers would have been the Bororos – Chadian livestock farmers, long time bandits and allies to members of the Seleka.

We recall two days earlier when Msgr Désiré-Nestor Nongo Aziagbya, bishop of Bossangoa was taken hostage along with three other priests in Butangafo, Cental Africa prior to the Paschal tour and finally being set free on Good Friday, the very day of the assassination.  It was with bitterness in the face of this resurgence of violent acts directed toward clergy that Msgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga, bishop of Bangui, denounced the barbaric acts which may well call into question all efforts for a much desired national reconciliation.

CENTRAFRIQUE-2On the other hand, as did Pope Francis while offering his Urbi et Orbi Easter Message, Msgr Nzapalainga invited all Central Africans and all men and women of good faith to pray for the return of peace and of security to the country and to open their hearts to dialogue and reconciliation.

He also called on the government to oversee the disarmament of all militias and for the right of free circulation of all persons across the entire territory.

PRESS RELEASE : Conference at the Sanctuaire du Saint-Sacrement – The persecuted Church, today…?

23.04.2014 in ACN Canada, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians, Syria

Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin

Montreal, Wednesday April 23, 2014 – Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Canada, in partnership with the Fraternité monastique de Jérsusalem and Solidarité Internationale Trinitaire (SIT), is organizing a conference with the theme of “The persecuted Church, today….?” This conference will take place Saturday and Sunday, May 3 and 4 beginning at 8:45 am, at the Sanctuaire du Saint-Sacrement, situated at 500, Mont Royal East, in Montreal.

This conference which will extend over two days, will include – testimonials, presentations, reflection periods in small groups, question and answer periods and the viewing of “Il était une foi(Once upon a time) as well as two religious celebrations:  The Vespers at 6:00 pm on Saturday, and The Lauds on Sunday at 8:00 am.Marie-Claude

From the outset, “La situation de la Syrie” (The situation of Syria) will set the tone of this conference.  You will then have the opportunity to hear the discourse of the much awaited professor and expert on the Middle-East, Sami Aoun, followed in the afternoon a no less interesting presentation by Marie-Claude Lalonde on “La liberté religieuse et la persecution dans le monde” (Religious freedom and persecution in the world.) Marie-Claude Lalonde has held the position of National Director at ACN Canada since 2000.  

Lastly, to complete the conference on Sunday, you are invited to attend at 9:00 am the discourse of Italian sociologist and founder of the Centre des études des nouvelles religions (CESNUR), Massimo Introvigne, entitled  Les actes anti-chrétiens en Occident“ (Anti-Christian acts in the West) . The day will end at 11:00 am with a Eucharistic celebration with the community of brothers and sisters from the Fraternernité monastique de Jérusalem

Photo Exhibit related to persecution

During the entirety of this event, you will also have the opportunity to take in an exhibition of photographs with the theme of persecution, which will be set up on site.  The 24 photographs in this expo tell the stories of various situations where Christians in many countries have suffered acts of violence.  ACN personnel will be on site to answer any questions you may have.

“Today, Christians constitute the religious group which suffers the greatest number of persecutions because of their faith,” Benedict XVI once stated in a message he gave for the World Day of Peace in 2011. This statement may appear to be an exaggerated one, but it rests on real facts.

According to the Report on Religious Freedom in the World, prepared by ACN every two years, it is estimated that currently the number of Christians in the world who may not freely practice their faith is approximately 200 million, that is to say: 1 out of every 10. Whereas according to Msgr Anthony Frontiero, member ot the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, some 150 000 Christians die every year because of their faith, representing as many as in the first three centuries of the history of Christianity.Communiqué 30 ans - 2

For example, in Pakistan where this Christian girl, her neck decorated with a Cross, seems to be looking skyward for a sign of hope.  This photograph, in our opinion, expresses the suffering of Christians in many parts of the world.  In Pakistan, this girl is part of a Catholic minority who suffer a multitude of discriminations in schools and universities.  The work left for them to do is the most difficult and the worst paying, such as brick-making in the sun, work which entire families, parents and children alike are subject to.

Communiqué 30 ans -1

Or, in Vietnam where for more than 30 years, all Christian symbols were prohibited by the totalitarian regime. Today, fireboxes of persecution like the one suffered here in 2006 by the parish of Me Vo Nhiem, persist.  The parishioners pick up the burned Cross anyway, and so bring their church back from the ashes.

JOURNEY WITH ACN in the Holy Land

18.04.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, ACN International, ACN SPECIAL SERIES, Holy Land, Israel, Journey with ACN

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which is regularly posted to our blog.   Our weekly newsletter was designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with various projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week again:   The Holy Land



By Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Translated by Amanda Bridget Griffin




It was at the Latin Patriarchy of Jerusalem that we met Hanna Bendcowsky, the Program Coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR), a project supported by Aid to the Church in Need.  After greeting us, she gave an animated presentation followed by a question period which was no less interesting.

The JCJCR is a non-profit organization established in 2004 to respond to the challenges of the unique and complex encounter of an empowered Jewish majortiy in Israel and the Palestinian Arab Christian minority in the Holy Land.  The Center promotes peace through programs that overcome ignorance and prejudice and foster understanding and empathy between Jews and the local Christians in the Holy Land.

All of the Center’s activities are planned and implemented in accordance with a two-part strategic focus:


Developing and implementing projects and programs that combat prejudices and negative stereotypes; contribute to understanding and appreciation of the other’s religious/cultural/national narrative, traditions and practices; create a spirit of cooperation by drawing on shared values to work toward common goals.

Hanna Bendcowsky, the Program Coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR)

Hanna Bendcowsky, the Program Coordinator at the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations (JCJCR)


To reach wider circles of society, JCJCR strives to network with other organizations and institutions, in order to enhance awareness of the significance of Jewish-Christian relations to peace-building in the Holy Land and to ensure the welfare of religious minorities in the Holy Land.

The JCJCR consistently seeks to work with multipliers, such as school teachers and other educators, guides, facilitators, leaders in the local communities, young adults training for leadership, and governmental representatives. To date, JCJCR has collaborated with over 100 Jewish, interfaith, educational and public bodies.

PRESS RELEASE : Syria – ‘Hear the cries of the children’

17.04.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN UK, Pope Francis, Syria

Patriarch’s appeal after bomb blast in playground kills one child and injures 60 others



John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom

Adapted by Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada

Montreal, April 17th, 2014 – THE LEADER of Catholics in Syria has issued a desperate plea for international help, describing how one child was killed and 60 others were injured when a bomb landed on a school playground during a spate of attacks in Damascus. Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III reported that several children received ‘life-changing’ injuries in the blast that took place while they were singing the Syrian National Anthem during early morning assembly at the Armenian Catholic School in Damascus’ Old City.

Describing how the children suffered injuries to the face, chest, eyes and stomach, the Patriarch said that a further 10 children were injured at about the same time during other blasts in Damascus, one in front of St Abraham’s Melkite Church and another in the suburb of Duel’a. He said that in another suburb – Jaramana – up to 40 shells had fallen within 48 hours.

In a report, sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Gregorios said after the attacks on Tuesday (15th April): “May the world heed the cries, tears and the prayers of the children of Syria.” The Patriarch, who is President of the Assembly of Catholic Hierarchs (bishops) in Syria, added: “What is the point of all this carnage tantamount to a war of extermination? These attacks on our schools, children, churches and homes are criminal attacks with the aim of intimidating Christians who find themselves increasingly targeted.”

In the name of our children



Appealing to the “world’s conscience in the name of our children”, the Patriarch called for help from the United Nations and the European Union. The Patriarch, who is based in Damascus, said: “Where are the United Nations and the European Union? Do you want to kill this nation?”

He went on to call on Pope Francis to intervene. He said: “Syria, appeals to you, Most Holy Father Francis. Help out of this crisis. “We need your prayer, your strong speech, your bold interventions. Send your messengers West and East into the world’s capital cities, to bring your message of peace for Syria.”

In his report to ACN, the Patriarch described how the disaster had followed the “general rejoicing” over news the day before (Monday, 14th April) that the largely Christian town of Ma’alula, had been “liberated” by the Syrian army. He wrote: “The inhabitants of Ma’alula are exultant. Lift up your heads, your deliverance is nigh.”

Late last year, Aid to the Church in Need provided emergency support for children who fled Ma’alula and went to Damascus, receiving help in a programme organised by Patriarch Gregorios. The charity has provided emergency help for Christians and others both displaced in Syria and those living as refugees in neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan.  Among those ACN supported were people trapped in the Old City of Homs cared for by Jesuit priest Fr Frans van der Lugt, murdered 10 days ago (Monday, 7th April).


– 30 –

Journey with ACN – Holy Land

11.04.2014 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN Canada, Holy Land, Journey with ACN, MOTORIZATION

JOURNEY WITH ACN is our Friday newsletter which is regularly posted to our blog.   Our weekly newsletter was designed to acquaint you with the needs of the Catholic Church around the world – and with various projects we have been able to realize together with ACN benefactors.

This week:   The Holy Land


A car for the parish priest in Nablus

Nablus is the largest city in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories and it has a long and honourable history behind it. It is here, among other things, that the tomb of the patriarch Joseph is situated, one of the most sacred places of Judaism, and also a place of pilgrimage for Christians, Muslims and Samaritans. It is 63 km by car from Jerusalem. This city, which has almost 300,000 inhabitants, is today a centre of trade and industry. Soap and sweets are made here, among other things. The average age of the population is young, with over half of the people aged under 20.

The majority of the inhabitants are Muslim, but there are also around 650 Christians in Nablus, of whom 250 are Catholic. Father Johnny Abu Khalil ministers not only to the Catholics living in the city itself but also to those in 3 sub-parishes. There is also a Catholic school in Nablus.

Given the size of this territory,  and in order to fulfill  his many duties, a car is an absolute necessity for this priest . Unfortunately, last winter his car caught fire and was completely burnt out. It has not yet been established just how this fire was caused, but the fact is that he now has no car. And while the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has temporarily given him the use of a car to help him continue with his apostolate and minister pastorally to the faithful, the car is also needed elsewhere.


Despite this generosity, Father Khalil still needs a car of his own and has turned to ACN for help – and we have promised to help him with a contribution of $18,250.


Targeted killing in Homs: project partner of “Aid to the Church in Need” shot dead in Syria

09.04.2014 in ACN Canada, ACN International, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Persecution of Christians, Syria

By Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by ACN Canada

ACN, Montreal, April 9, 2014 – Father Frans van der Lugt is dead. The Dutch Jesuit and project partner of “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) was shot Monday morning (April 7) in Homs by an unknown person, as reported by his fellow Jesuit, Father Ziad Hilal. “Father Frans was evidently killed by targeted shots to the head. We received the news by phone from one of the faithful who was with him in the old city,” Father Ziad said in a telephone interview with “Aid to the Church in Need”. Father Frans van der Lugt (75) had worked in Syria since 1967 and he was holding out with 20 other Christians in the almost totally destroyed old city, which had been under siege from the Syrian arms for two years. He looked after the remaining residents and also wanted to protect the Jesuit church, his fellow priest went on to explain. According to Father Ziad it is at present not possible to get into the old city to recover Father Frans’ body.

Father Frans van der Lugt  Courtesy of José de Pablo, SJ, of the European Provincial Offices Secretariat

Father Frans van der Lugt
Courtesy of José de Pablo, SJ, of the European Provincial Offices Secretariat

As recently as the end of March Father Ziad had been in Brussels with staff from “Aid to the Church in Need” to tell EU representatives about the situation around Homs. He spoke via Skype with Father Frans, among other things about his imminent birthday, which they had hoped to celebrate together. On this occasion Father Ziad said about his fellow priest: “For me, he embodies Christ in the world, who is willing to die for his friends and who always gives us hope. He always asks me how I am and doesn’t talk much about his own well-being.”

In view of the depressing news about Father Frans’ death, Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East section at “Aid to the Church in Need”, called for people to pray for an end to the fighting and for peace in the region, for the late Father Frans and for the besieged Christians.

“Aid to the Church in Need” has supported the people affected by the civil war in Syria for a number of years. To date more than 2.5 million euros has been spent on aid programmes co-ordinated by Father Ziad in Syria. Other projects are being prepared. The total number of Syrians who have fled the civil war is currently estimated at 9 million: 6.5 million are on the run in their country and a further 2.5 million have left Syria.