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Toni Zweifel - What is still missing is a miracle

With the canonisation of the Glarnese Toni Zweifel, he would be the first Glarus saint since Saint Fridolin, the patron saint of Glarus. But who is the member of Opus Dei who died in 1989?

People from all over the world pray diligently to a Zurich engineer who died in 1989: "God, merciful Father, graciously glorify your servant Toni and, through his intercession, graciously hear my plea" is the prayer to invoke Toni Zweifel. His intercession has so far been used by over 500 people from 46 countries.

A physicist prayed, whereupon the complications of his experiment vanished into thin air. A computer scientist turned to Zweifel until a paralysed computer system ran again for no apparent reason, and an employee of a telecommunications company was rehired shortly after his dismissal - thanks to Toni Zweifel. This is what the faithful write in the prayer hearings on the Opus Dei Switzerland website. Opus Dei initiated the process 20 years ago to have Toni Zweifel first beatified and then canonized. Recently the documents were handed over to the Vatican. This could make Zweifel Glarus’s and Zurich's first modern saint after Fridolin in Glarus and Felix and Regula in Zurich.

Toni Zweifel was born 1938 in Verona, Italy. He was the son of Antonia di Benedetto (1909-1985) and Jost (Giusto) Zweifel (1907-1985). The family of his father, a wealthy textile manufacturer from Verona, came from the canton of Glarus. His grandparents, Fridolin Zweifel (1878-1954) and Barbara Zweifel neé Zweifel (1879-1964), had already moved from Linthal to the Veneto to take over the management of a textile factory. When the Second World War broke out, his mother took him and his younger sister with her to the canton of Glarus. In 1944 he returned to Italy, to San Giovanni Lupatoto near Verona, to begin his school education. From 1949 to 1957 he attended the grammar school in Verona. He then decided to study mechanical engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. Towards the end of his studies he came into contact with fellow students who belonged to Opus Dei. They were working on the construction of a student hostel in the name of the Opus Dei.

Break up with girlfriend for Opus Dei

When the Fluntern dormitory opened for business, Toni also had doubts, including his coffee machine, although it was forbidden to have electrical appliances in the room. But for the Italian customs Zweifel made an exception, as is written in his biography "Toni Zweifel, Geheiligter Alltag", published in 2017. Zweifel became increasingly interested in Opus Dei and in 1962 became a numerary, as the celibate laymen were called who were totally committed to the faith community. In return Zweifel broke up with his girlfriend.

After working in his profession for a few years, he became director of the Fluntern dormitory and devoted himself to the home, its residents and the educational opportunities offered by Opus Dei in Zurich. He benefited from his large network of contacts and the financial support of his family.

In 1972 he established the Zurich Limmat Foundation, of which he was the director for the rest of his life. Thanks to a donation in the millions, Zweifel developed the first umbrella foundation in Switzerland. This still exists today and currently has 14 sub-foundations and several earmarked funds. These funds are dedicated to educational and social projects throughout the world, such as a primary school in Kenya, a rehabilitation program for child soldiers in Colombia and the promotion of young professional women in India.

Although the Limmat Foundation is in exchange with Opus Dei, it does not consider itself a religious foundation, nor does it work on behalf of the Catholic institution. This is the opinion of François Geinoz, his successor as director at the foundation's headquarters, an imposing villa on the Zürichberg, which was formerly the residence of the Italian consul. Geinoz is also a member of Opus Dei, as are some of its donors. However, Geinoz says that only a third of the projects supported are related to the work. Nevertheless, the foundation is Catholic in character, which has an effect above all on the image of man and the selection of projects worthy of support. The focus there is on education, work and the common good of the people.

"Faith not shaken, but deepened"

In 1986, Toni Zweifel contracted leukaemia, the cause of his death in 1989. "His handling of the then incurable disease was the reason for the veneration he received after his death," says Beat Müller, spokesman for Opus Dei German-speaking Switzerland. He had fully accepted the diagnosis. It had not shaken his faith, but had deepened it even more. "That is quite remarkable," says Müller.

Zweifel received many visitors at his bedside from friends, private and professional companions. The Opus Dei leadership, the then prelate and now beatified Alvaro del Portillo, also visited him several times. In these circles he and his lifestyle became a role model, as Beat Müller says. "After his death, veneration exploded and spread internationally."

In 2000, Opus Dei members from Switzerland initiated the process for the beatification of Toni Zweifel. The prelate appointed the Opus Dei priest Andreas Wildhaber as postulator, who from then on was responsible for the process. Wildhaber says it is important that people who have led a normal life are also beatified and ultimately canonised. "It needs saints from our time as role models." Toni Zweifel believes this is true for today's ETH students or engineers, for example.

Wildhaber has been collecting documents and testimonies for twenty years. The Diocese of Chur has heard 45 witnesses who knew Toni Zweifel in order to establish "his undoubted virtuousness", as is required as a prerequisite for beatification in the Roman Catholic Church. The effort is great, but Wildhaber was not additionally compensated for this. Nor can the expenditure of the Diocese of Chur be quantified in hourly rates, as Wildhaber says. Only for the cooperation with the diocese of Verona was 100 euros paid as a symbolic contribution.

130 kilos of paper brought to Rome

Last July, the Apostolic Administrator of Chur, Bishop Peter Bürcher, packed and sealed the documents about Toni Zweifel in boxes. The entire material comprises 13,000 pages and weighs 130 kilograms. This concludes the Swiss phase of the process. In September, Andreas Wildhaber personally drove the boxes to Rome, thus opening the "Roman phase". The Congregation for the Causes of Saints there will examine the documents in order to clearly establish the virtuousness of the doubt.

Nevertheless, it will probably take years before Toni Zweifel is beatified, let alone canonised. For what is still missing is a miracle - besides virtuousness, the second prerequisite for beatification. For a canonisation a second miracle would be needed. Until now, however, no supernatural event could be attributed to a call for help to Toni Zweifel.

Andreas Wildhaber is optimistic that this event will still occur: "Miracles can only be made by the Lord God alone", says Wildhaber, "we can only encourage them". Wildhaber did this by co-writing the prayer to Toni Zweifel. So now it is up to the praying physicists, engineers and computer scientists and the "servant of God Toni Zweifel".

What is Opus Dei?

Opus Dei was founded in Madrid in 1928 by the now canonised Spanish priest Jo-sémaria Escrivá. The "Work of God" is a Roman Catholic institution and focuses on education and pastoral care. Although the main focus of Opus Dei is on the Spanish-speaking world and Italy, there are educational and social institutions all over the world that are influenced by Opus Dei, such as schools, vocational training centres, universities and student houses. In Switzerland, Opus Dei has 200 members, half of them in Zurich, where Opus Dei runs two student houses, one for men and one for women. The Infosekta office classifies Opus Dei as Catholic fundamentalism. The fundamentalist positions manifested themselves, for example, in a fortress mentality, an understanding of the struggle against modern society, an awareness of being chosen and an emphasis on obedience and subordination. Opus Dei saw itself as the "immaculate remnant of the true church".

Source: Katrin Oller, The Landbote, 23.11.2020, p. 13

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