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Palm Sunday - Jesuits of North-West Africa Province | Society of Jesus


Is 50: 4-7/ Ps 22: 8-9. 17-18. 19-20. 23-24/ Phil 2:6-11/ Mt 26: 14 – 27: 66

By *Fr. Patrick J. Ryan, SJ

Judas, Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate—each played his part in the drama that brought Jesus to the cross. Other figures, more sympathetically portrayed, entered into the action—Gentiles or diaspora Jews, Pilate's nameless wife, Simon the Cyrenian, the Roman centurion and his men who confessed, at the crucifixion, "Truly, this was the Son of God!" Matthew wrote his Gospel precisely for a community of such diaspora Jews and Gentiles, the first members of the Church. Encouraging them in the late first century, Matthew gave them ancestors in the faith to sustain their hearts in a time of rejection by rabbinical Judaism and Roman officialdom.

God gave us three years ago at this time another ancestor in the faith, another person who has stepped up, not unlike Simon the Cyrenian, to help Jesus carry his cross, but—unlike Simon—he didn't have to be pressed into service. That person was a Dutch Jesuit a year older than I named Father Frans van der Lugt. Father Frans had refused to leave the people who couldn't be evacuated from Homs in Syria, and especially the mentally handicapped adults, Muslim as well as Christian, whom Father Frans had served for much of the forty-eight years he had lived in the Middle East.

Father Frans was taken out of the small Jesuit house in the Old City of Homs three years ago on a Monday morning and shot in the head, execution-style. An Egyptian Jesuit, Father Samir Khalil Samir, who knew Father van der Lugt well over many years, told Vatican radio some things about Father Frans and I quote Father Samir: "Father Frans was totally dedicated to helping people. He's probably the only one who didn't leave the house, our residence in Homs, not for even one day. He decided to remain, day and night there in the Jesuit residence receiving people the whole time. Anyone who needed to be helped knew that he would find help through Fr. Frans. Help meant to give them something to eat, somewhere to sleep... any kind of help. The house was open to everyone, Christians and Muslims. He refused to make any distinction between them. That's a very important point—no difference between Christians and Muslims. A person is a person and needs help, and that's all."

As we begin this Holy Week, let us look at the cross Jesus bore two thousand years ago, and the cross born by so many others today: in Syria, in Iraq, in South Sudan, in so many teeming slums and impoverished ghettos throughout the world. Let us ask ourselves the three questions Saint Ignatius poses for all of us early in the Spiritual Exercises, the questions that Father van der Lugt has finally answered with his blood: "What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ?" In the way we live our lives, how we answer those questions could make all the difference.

*Fr. Patrick J. Ryan, SJ,  is the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University in New York and has also worked for in Ghana and Nigeria. 


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