Farewell to Eugen Birrer †

Information Service SMB1969-1972
Missio Fribourg1972-1974
Information Service 3rd World / Declaration of Bern1975-1977
Terre des Hommes1977-1979
UNHCR: in different countries
Refugee service of the Jesuits, Kenya

"There are millions of refugees, but if I can save even a single person's life and help him to a new home, then my efforts have paid off." (E. Birrer)

Reported by Peter Baumgartner, Nairobi (former Tagesanzeiger correspondent)

Yes, it was a worthy, beautiful celebration of Eugene’s farewell. The church in Kangemi was full, and many parishioners paid their last respects to Eugene, as well as several refugee aid organizations that had counted on Eugene’s support over the last 20 years. The Swiss Embassy was represented, Comundo (by the head of the organization in Kenya), the UNHCR, the Catholic Refugee Aid and some more organizations. The Gentiana Development Network which helped Eugene in 2005 and is now the owner of the Gentiana Primary School and the Tech School, sent the two principals and myself (I’m the chairman of the network). The parish council in corpore and all those Catholics were represented who visited the Catholic parish of Flawil more than ten years ago. The primary school, St. Joseph the Worker, where Eugene had built a borehole for the school, and was financing the Secondary School for a number of children at the school was present with quite a number of children. After a nearly 18-hour journey, Heini Dommann from Marsabit arrived in time for Mass – he had emigrated more than 30 years ago on behalf of Interteam, to set up the technical center in Marsabit.

As the official next of kin, as it were, I was greeted by many people of the parish who told me of any assistance from Eugene, often years back, but they had not forgotten Eugene. When I talked to all these people and they told me brief stories about Eugene, I became aware again of Eugene’s ambivalence, which had struck me so often in the 25 years that I had to deal with him: On the one hand stubborn ad nauseam, dismissive and sometimes hurtful – especially with people who were close and often too close to him; on the other hand, a man who generously helped people in need.

There were also 12 priests present, among them all the priests of the Jesuit community, as well as Father Peter Meienberg and also Luigi Clerici. The Mass was held by Father Calisto Nyagilo, who represented the cardinal, along with the two parish priests. It was a beautiful Requiem. The choir did a very good job. It was a hymn that Eugene wished for:

I, the Lord of sea and sky
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
I have made the stars of night
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall i send?

Here am I, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, LORD, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.

Here am I, Lord. Is it I, Lord?