Future of the Church in Syria: 750 Young Christians gathered in Homs

For the members and leaders of local Churches, this meeting is “in many ways exceptional” because it highlights the role young people can play in the future of Syria and the local Christian community as a whole.

Newsroom (03/05/2022 10:40 AM Gaudium Press) An ecumenical meeting is underway in Homs, from 28 April to 1 May 2022, bringing together about 750 young Syrian Christians from different Churches, congregations, and regions.

The event is meant to be a stage in the path of renaissance for the country and its Catholic and other communities. It follows a conference in Damascus in mid-March, including many Church leaders, a virtual Pentecost of the Syrian Church on a “charity and synodality” journey.

In Homs, local Church officials worked together for months to prepare for the meeting, turning what for many was a dream into reality, thanks to the tireless work of coordination and planning of local Jesuits.

For the members and leaders of local Churches, this meeting is “in many ways exceptional” because it highlights the role young people can play in the future of Syria and the local Christian community as a whole.

Young people are among the most affected by the war and Syria’s economic and social crises, which have forced many families abroad in search of fortune and better opportunities.

Homs was chosen for this four-day “festival” because it is the country’s third-largest city, after Damascus’s capital and its central economic hub Aleppo.

As the site of the first large-scale mass protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the city was dubbed the “capital of the revolution.” The first clashes between the regular army, the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), and al-Nusra jihadi groups took place not far from the city.

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For Christians, Homs is connected to the shocking murder of Fr Frans van der Lugt on 7 April 2014. Aged 75, the Jesuit priest was shot dead at Bustan al-Diwan convent, in the heart of the old city, after spending 50 years in Syria. The murder was perpetrated by someone van der Lugt personally knew.

Born on 10 April 1938 in the Netherlands, Fr. Van der Lugt joined the Society of Jesus on 7 September 1959 and was ordained on 29 May 1971. He was a member of the Jesuit Province of the Near East.

He arrived in Syria in 1966 after spending two years in Lebanon studying Arabic. During all the years spent in his adopted country, Fr. Van der Lugt tried to keep the local community, made up of Christians and Muslims, together.

With the outbreak of the civil war in 2011, the Jesuit residence in Homs became a refuge for many people whose homes had been destroyed, a place to share the little food and water left in the city.

Fr Frans was killed a few days before Assad’s troops regained control of the city, shot in the face, under the trees of the small cloister where he is now buried, the place quickly becoming a site of pilgrimages and prayers.

According to several sources, his murder was planned and designed to eliminate an awkward witness who, thanks to the relationships he built up over the decades. Allegedly, he knew too much about the actions of various groups, both on the government side and, above all, the anti-Assad side.

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Brother Alois, a German-born Catholic monk who has been the prior of the Taizé Community since 16 August 2005, sent a message to the 750 young Syrian Christians who gathered in Homs: “Your meeting is a great sign of hope for us,” he writes. “You do not allow yourself to be paralyzed by the difficulties of life. This pilgrimage of hope and trust strengthens human bonds of friendship so necessary everywhere in our societies and our Churches. And it strengthens your bond with Christ.”

(Via AsiaNews.it)

Compiled by Raju Hasmukh

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