Farewell to Alex Stoffel †

Stoffel AlexBorn: 1. 11. 1940.
Ordination: 21. 6. 1970.
Pastor and parish priest in Zimbabwe: 1974-1989.
St. Anthony / Zaka: (1974-79).
St. Paul & St.Luke / Gweru: (1980-87).
Triangle: (1988-89).
Promotion work at Immensee: 1989-1992.
Team assignment in Mosambik: 1993-2006.
Reconstruction of the parish Mossurize
Parish priest of Ausserberg VS: 2007-2015.
Deceased: 5. 9. 2015.

“All real life is encounter.” (Martin Buber)

On August 1, Alex reluctantly handed over the parish Ausserberg, where he – as he expressed himself – could be a missionary as in Africa for nine years. On the same day the Municipality of Ausserberg expressed their gratitude and sadness by conferring honorary citizenship on Alex. Although not eager for honour he was happy at this recognition.

Eight days later Alex did not make it to the parish church of Visperterminen for the memorial service for his cousin Hermann. The energy was just enough to get to his parents’ house. Here, where he had his roots, he took his leave. As we drove to Lucerne the following Monday, he seemed to feel the nearness of death. Several times he said: “I will not return to the Valais again.”

Five weeks after his departure from Ausserberg his life has come to an end. The force that kept hope for an improvement alive in him had vanished. In recent days he often said, “I’m ready to go.” It was a short and quick farewell, which hurts.

These events – surrender of the parish, the awarding of honorary citizenship, his last visit to the family home in Visperterminen and his death – hold his life together like a bracket. Stages of life become evident. They let us recognize his understanding of the missionary task: meeting others.

  • First is his internship year in the Good Shepherd Parish in Zurich, where he made contacts which lasted until now.
  • In 1972 he entered a missionary commitment to Zimbabwe. Already in the first parish, because of the civil war, he felt a defencelessness and helplessness. With the other missionaries, he decided, however, to stay on in spite of all life-threatening violence. With the Christian communities he solidary shared a common fear. After the war, the construction of a suburban parish was an encouragement. When the bishop wanted to transfer him, the parish successfully took to the streets.
  • Branded from the experiencesof civil warandinspired byworking withsmallChristian communities,he returned toSwitzerland in 1990for three years.In manyparisheshe narratedenthusiastically about hisfaithexperienceand sought to awakeninterest inthe missionarytask of the Church. Engaged missionarygroups that come togetherto this day,go back to his endeavor.
  • It was almost to be expected. In Switzerland he decided for deployment in Mozambique. Again, a country that has a history of 500 years of colonial rule and also of an inhuman civil war. The war had left countless dead. Social, cultural and religious institutions were depleted. The community had to be rebuilt. Nursing staff from the Valais and himself, as a team, built an infrastructure such as schools, health centres and workshops. After the deadly war experience, the disenfranchised and defenceless took first steps again which led them to believe again in a life of abundance.

After 34 years of Africa, Alex decided in 2007 for a missionary commitment in the Valais. He wanted to work in a community where the presence of God and human closeness can be experienced. He was concerned that a community feels itself committed to life. Parish and parish priest walked this way to life together. That’s why Alex found it difficult to give up the work in Ausserberg.

Alex was a man who lived with the people and meeting people. In contact with others, he felt in his element. It comes as no surprise that the phone was his most loyal companion. Reaching out to others and listening to them, he saw as his missionary task.

Solidarity, dialogue, exchange, encounters, mutual learning were commonplace for Alex. Solidarity, dialogue, exchange, encounter were the contents of the missionary task he felt obliged to. During a visit, I found a note confirming this. He borrowed it from a Jewish philosopher: “All real life is encounter.” Mission is meeting with a counterpart, with yourself and with God. Encounters can be fulfilling, enriching and challenging, they can open up new horizons and point to not yet trodden ways.

With Alex I stumble on three characteristics that were important for his missionary practice in Africa and in Ausserberg and will be applicable beyond his death:

I experienced him as a person who reached out to others, and built bridges to shorten distances. Following this approach to others means, be all ears, empathize with the world of the other person and imagine what the other person may think. The result is a benevolent understanding and empathy, without setting aside the differences, between you and me. Interest in each other and empathy leads to authenticity. Even if we are not of the same opinion, I do not need to hide or make myself small. I must keep my opinion. I do not have “diminish”. “I am somebody”.

The missionary biography of Alex reveals that God is interested in His creation and encounters man. This is expressed in a song: “God loves this world and we are his own!” We are not indifferent to Him. Therefore, He empathizes with his creatures. We experience Jesus Christ as God’s Bridge to us humans. Encounters that succeed, want to help us in our encounter with God in our lives and ultimately enable life.

An Australian aborigine woman summarizes the message of the life of Alex in a sympathetic and unsurpassable way:

“If you have come to help us and to teach us
I’ll tell you: You’re wasting your time!
But if you are here because your liberation and ours are interdependent, then Okay, come and we work together. ”