Unforgettable Memory of Fr. Antonie Sondag
By. Paul Hwang
Director of ALL Forum
“Excellent!” it is Antoine’s favorite word. He always said this when I was doing Asian youth programs. I really thought the program was Excellent, but Antoine gave this compliment to many people. Such a generous word was not limited to people. When we ate together, or took a short walk in the park around the conference venue, I couldn’t fail to hear the very word. Perhaps it’s not because Antoine’s emotions and language are loose, but because it was an expression of his attitude toward to life. It is just like “life is beautiful”, one of his last words left us in the four-minute video he made ahead of his own death. It is not only my feelings of him. When Nicola from France shared her grief with me on his passing away in an email, she said he was “a brilliant and funny person with a deep love of life.”
The memory of Antoine was always pleasant to me. Perhaps I first met Antoine at an international conference on the theme of the IMF crisis, hosted by the Woori Theology Institute in Seoul in the late 1990s. In 2013, we held the Asian Youth Academy(AYA)/Asian Theology Forum(ATF) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In the morning liturgy, participants came out to a large, woody garden to pick out what they liked best around them and explain why in one word. I saw Antoine then pick up a piece of fallen leaves from a large mango tree and tell the joiners around him why he chose the word “Serenity” in his turn. I guess he chose the word for “stillness” out of many meanings of the word. He was a pleasant and outgoing person with the word “Excellent!” in his mouth, but inside he seemed to aim for such calmness, and I thought it might be the power to support Antoine. With wide range of knowledge of religions, cultures, history, people and societies in Asia and other parts of the world as well, Antoine had been asked for teaching CSTs for young ones whenever I invited him to Asian youth programs. It was because he was a “Walking CSTs.” When he was stubbornly criticized by a participant who was tied to a “traditional and transcendental spirituality” rather than critical thinking and approach seen well in CSTs, he said to me “It was nearly killing me!” But even after that, he didn’t keep distance from her and gave her time to generously listening to her. Antoine I know was such a person.
Antoine got a haircut nearly every time he went abroad. “It’s cheaper than Paris,” he replied in smile, but I didn’t think it was just because of money. I could imagine it was because Antoine loved the street or small road he h ad taken, a barber shop and the person who cut his hair. I did get a haircut whenever I went abroad following Antoine since that time. It is because it is cheaper than Seoul indeed like what Antoine said, and because the scenery of people and things on my way to barber shops were memorable. Now I have one more reason for doing this. After the pandemic is over, when I go abroad again and get a haircut, the loving memory of him will surely come to me. Antoine would be with me for quite a long time if I won’t forget my hair cut there. Thank you so much for your love for us, from the bottom of our heart Antoine, our dear friend.