VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis spoke on Wednesday of his deep grief over the assassination of a 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit priest in Syria and made a renewed appeal for an end to the violence.
Frans van der Lugt had been living in Syria since the 1970s and had become widely known for his refusal to leave Christians who remained in the rebel-held city of Homs as it was blockaded by government forces. He was beaten and shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his monastery on Monday.
"His brutal killing filled me with profound pain and made me think again of the many people who suffer and die in that tortured country, my beloved Syria, which has already for far too long been gripped by bloody conflict, which continues to mete out death and destruction," Francis told a weekly audience. "From my heart, I ask you all to join with my prayer for peace in Syria and in the region, and I send a concerned call to those responsible in Syria and to the international community: put down your arms, end the violence! No more war! No more destruction!"
Francis urged that human rights be respected in Syria and that those in need be given humanitarian assistance.
Christians made up about 10 per cent of Syria's population before protests in 2011 led to a wider civil war that has displaced a third of its people and killed more than 150,000.
The Christian minority traditionally supported President Bashar al-Assad for protecting them and has been attacked by his opponents for that stand.