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Farewell to Anton Züger †

Born15.6.1931Züger Anton
Ordained priest23.3.1959
Vicar in Ichinoseki1962-1969
Pastor in Morioka-Kamido1970-1977
Pastor in Morioka-Shike
Regional Superior (1977–2001): Educational work in several parishes: Amnesty International; Justitia et Pax 1977–2006
1977-2006
Pastor in Morioka (Regional House)2006–2016
Retirement in Sendai (retirement home) 2016–2020
Died23.4.2020

“May also the pedestrians of the people of God
feel and accept the joyful and liberating message of Jesus,
that is very close to my heart. “
(from a letter from Tony)

Every person has his own secret, personal world. And when he dies, he takes everything with him, only footprints and a few memories remain. – Here, in our circle of confreres, I would like to limit myself briefly to a few personal memories of how I experienced Tony.

It was in 1945 when we were fourteen that we first met here at the high school. His uncle was assistant pastor in my home parish and so we quickly felt connected. Tony was more of a quiet nature, not very enthusiastic about sport and music: e.g. In class football, he was mostly in the goal, unmoved by the events around him, only trying to decide whether the ball was in the goal or outside. He left it to others to fend off the ball. – Or at theatre time he was responsible for wardrobe and makeup. We often teased him: “Tony, you only have 3 brothers and no sister. How will you manage to turn a student’s face into that of a lady?” He just smiled, unimpressed. Before the performance, he called us over and proudly presented his efforts: “Here, ancient beauty; Antigone!“ – surprisingly well done!  That is how we experienced Tony.

He successfully completed the strictly managed academic years as a model student. After the novitiate, he was assigned to work in the library, a welcome gift for him as books remained his passion and we already saw him as a future teacher or scientist. After ordination he was appointed to the grammar school Torry, Fribourg with the obligation to learn French thoroughly, since he would be involved there for years in the school. So, our ways parted. In less than a year our destination surprised us both: the Japan Mission. It was like a bolt from the blue. In Marseille we boarded the ship that took us to Japan in 5 weeks. Despite wonderful excursions at shipping ports, Tony never left the ship, only read books and smoked Brissago cigars or his pipe. Learning the language in Tokyo was tedious. That was when I found out for the first time that Tony was blind in one eye from birth and so we could not make the half-hour journey to school by bike, but only on foot, which was very tedious in heat, dust and wind storms. The teachers were amazed at the skill with which he mastered the complicated characters and their readings, while other fellow missionaries groaned or, as one Italian wearily said: “Japanese is an invention of the devil” and gave up.

After studying the language for almost 1½ years, Tony was appointed vicar in Ichinoseki, where he quickly settled into the Japanese mentality and parish business with Oskar Egloff. His sermons and Bible classes inspired both Christians and catechumens because his words were amazingly simple and understandable. He wrote to me: “I try to present the gospel in such a way that it is understandable even for the pedestrians of the people of God who are traveling with us and also for those who can only hesitantly or not believe in God. It is very important to me that they feel and accept the joyful and liberating message of Jesus. ”

He was continually asked to give retreats to the German-speaking Mission staff – including several times in Taiwan. We confreres benefitted from his talents. We were happy when he was called to the Regional House to do educational work in several parishes. In 1977 he was elected Regional Superior and one can only be amazed that he remained almost 30 years in the post until the region was dissolved. We very much appreciated his quiet and humble manner, he did not interfere in the concrete pastoral work of the parishes, he limited himself to trendsetting, valuable suggestions for our pastoral work. That is why he was popular and valued by everyone. – Usually we only met at monthly recollection days from Sunday evening to Monday evening in the otherwise lonely Regional House, where he lived with the neighboring pastor of the Shike Parish. Soon after he was elected superior, Tony also took over one of the three city parishes in Morioka as well as the support of the Dominican convent and became director of the newly built missionary centre. Together with Christian professors, doctors, spouses and confreres, he started a series of lectures such as: “The Christian human image”, or “Church and human rights” or “Christian life practice” etc.

Finally, he looked after the older confreres with great care and patience and prepared to hand over all the parishes to local personnel. At the 2000 consultation in Zimbabwe, it was decided that by 2004 all SMB members would leave Japan. It took Tony tremendous persuasion to get all the confreres ready to let go and go home. It was all the more surprising that he informed us that he himself would remain in Japan. He never justified his decision, but took it to his grave as a secret. Fortunately, he found a doctor who confirmed that a return flight to Switzerland was too risky for his heart. Health problems and a decrease in strength made his everyday life more and more difficult. Even his age-old Hermes typewriter, which accompanied him for life, failed which led to only sparse card greetings. In April 2016, with a heavy heart, he decided to move to the newly built retirement home of the diocese in Sendai, where he continued to be lovingly cared for by a faithful Christian. I called him at Easter. His voice was weak, but the Easter greetings from our community clearly pleased him.

United with the Christians in Japan, we thank the faithful God for our dear confrere, Tony, who proclaimed the precious good news of Jesus with word and life. May God, with the omnipotence of his love, embrace Tony and let him experience in full depth and breadth the joy of resurrection and life in fullness.

Charles Renner