KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Last week marked another low point in the Syrian conflict. A gunman assassinated a Dutch priest in the city of Homs, a place that for more than two years, has seen unspeakable violence. Seventy-five-year-old Father Frans van der Lugt had lived and worked in Syria for nearly five decades. It's not known who killed him, the government or the rebels. Former NPR producer Rima Marrouch went to his church as a girl growing up in Homs. She sent us this commentary.
RIMA MARROUCH, BYLINE: In the neighborhood, we called him Abouna Frans, our father of Frans. I was around seven years old when I saw him for the first time in our church. He was one of the tallest people I knew, but he would always walk with his back curved as if he was bearing all the sins of his small parish. He would often end conversations with the line ila al amam, forward, hinting that there is no time to waste. But in the most recent amateur video of him shot in January 2014, in the besieged area of Homs, he sounded as if he was losing hope.
FRANS VAN DE LUGT: (Foreign language spoken)
MARROUCH: He said people are not finding food. There is nothing more difficult than to see a mother and a father in a street looking for food for their children. Father Frans studied psychology before moving to Syria in 1966. In Homs, he organized yoga workshops. Homs was a quiet city. But Father Frans made it exciting. He organized hiking trips around the country, and everyone was invited: Christians and Muslims, Jews and Alawites. You could feel that he really loved the land and its people. In another video, he explains why he stayed in Homs.
LUGT: (Foreign language spoken)
MARROUCH: The same way I shared with these people their treasures, I also want to share with them their fear, pain and death. Sharing requires presence, being close, to move from fear to peace, from sadness to joy, from death to life. Father Frans converted a room in the monastery to a bakery so local families of any religion could have bread. He was killed in that monastery. A priest told me that a masked man with a Kalashnikov rifle came in, found Father Frans, and ordered him to sit in a chair. Then he shot him twice. Now, I think about Father Frans' words in that last video. He said we love life, and we love to live. We don't want to die in a sea of pain and death.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MCEVERS: Rima Marrouch adapted this commentary from an essay she wrote for the website Raseef22.
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