«Rejoice always» (1 Thess 5:16)
Dear people gathered to bid farewell to Ueli Scherer, it is perhaps a little unusual to choose the Christmas Gospel (Lk 2:8-14) at a memorial service for someone who has died. But I think that the good news of the angels to the shepherds, i.e. the good news to the world, fits Ueli, because the goal of his missionary activity was always to proclaim good news to the people in Taiwan and also to live this good news. This message of joy, peace and liberation should give the people of Taiwan new perspectives, courage to face life and a bubbling joy of living. God’s life-giving and merciful devotion to we humans shaped Ueli’s missionary work. The experience in his family certainly contributed a great deal to this. Let us first explore this experience a little:
Experiences in the family
Ueli Scherer was born on 13 July 1934, the third child of the Scherer-Ramoser family, and grew up with his three siblings Franz, Louis and Theres at the foot of the Uetliberg. His father, Franz, was employed as a porter at the then SAIS grease goods factory on Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich. His mother,Theres, came from Klobenstein in South Tyrol. Ueli’s parents met in Rome, where his father served for several years under Pope Pius XI in the Swiss Guard, while his mother worked in a private household in Rome. His mother’s place of origin later made wonderful holidays possible for the whole family in South Tyrol.
Ueli attended primary school in Friesenberg. The desire to become a missionary himself was awakened by the Mission Sundays, where missionaries told stories of their experiences, such as fried ants, which Ueli immediately tried out with his brothers, unfortunately without success. Ueli later wrote such stories and other pranks in the monthly parish magazine of the parish in Taitung, Taiwan. The parishioners waited eagerly for them.
In the parish of St. Theresa, Ueli was a keen altar boy and an enthusiastic boy scout, as well as being a rascal who always liked to take part in pranks. Ueli once annoyed the school caretaker by emptying all the waste paper baskets on to the floor in some of the classrooms. The caretaker accidentally slapped Ueli’s brother, Louis, across the face for this misdeed, because the two looked like twin brothers and so it was possible to confuse them.
Ueli was very talented in sports and climbed many trees to fill his trouser pockets with fine fruits. In a youth camp in Seelisberg he continued this habit and was observed by a certain Fridolin Stöckli who, as a theology student of the SMB, was doing an internship at the youth camp. Ueli received a slap in the face from him for this, which in retrospect may be interpreted as a calling to missionary work.
Missionary career in the SMB
After one year of secondary school, Ueli changed to Rebstein Progymnasium, followed a year later to the Gymnasium in Immensee, which he successfully completed with the Matura in 1954. At the Schöneck seminary above Beckenried, Ueli studied philosophy and theology, but this was always marked by exciting experiences and adventures. Climbing remained a hobby of Ueli’s, whereby he moved from the trees to the mountain peaks, including the Matterhorn, together with late Martin Holenstein (SMB), and on many other peaks in the Valais, Graubünden and the Dolomites. He also mastered skiing perfectly, which he proved in his military service as a holder of the high mountain badge. Ueli was also a water lover. During his studies at the seminary, he ventured on a secret swimming trip from Beckenried to Gersau and back, about ten kilometres, on a beautiful, study-free afternoon. Fortunately, he returned safely and no superior of the seminary found out about this unauthorised swimming excursion.
On 26 March 1961, Ueli was ordained a priest by Bishop Josephus Hasler of St. Gallen in Rebstein. He celebrated his first Mass at Easter of the same year in his home parish of St. Theresa.
Against his wish to be a missionary in Colombia, Ueli was sent to Taiwan in 1963 after two years in the information service of the Mission Society. Together with Augustin Büchel, he was a passenger on a cargo ship for six weeks. After arriving in Taiwan, he learned Taiwanese at the Mission Society of Maryknoll in Taichung and found good support in the Zhang family, with whom he stayed and could also practice the Taiwanese language. Ueli’s first pastoral assignment was with his late confrere Hermann Brun (SMB) in the parish of Chang-Bin, where he was able to gain his first experience of everyday life in Taiwan.
But already in 1968, he was called back to Immensee to realise his great communicative talent in the information service.
After four years, at the end of 1971, he returned to Taiwan, learnt Mandarin Chinese and became involved in the Pao-Sang-lu city parish in Taitung, also serving on the regional council for three years. He had a special gift for dealing with young people. In addition to this work, he accompanied the five parishes on Orchid Island for several days each month. In 1981, he moved together with late Gottfried Suter (SMB) to Kaohsiung, the largest port city in southwest Taiwan, where many migrants from the east coast were moving to find work. The late Friedrich Hort (SMB) had already started migrant work there. After the death of Friedrich Hort and the all too early death of Gottfried Suter, Ueli, together with good co-workers, continued to build up an ethnically mixed community: Taiwanese, mainland Chinese, members of various indigenous tribes, under the motto: unity in diversity, which he also succeeded in doing thanks to his personal closeness to the people and his knowledge of languages.
Ueli was active for many years as President of the Cursillo Movement for the whole of Taiwan. The fact that he was elected Dean by his pastoral colleagues and was a member of the Diocesan Council for 12 years shows his popularity and his abilities. After many years of missionary life and work in Kaohsiung, Ueli began to suffer from ailments that increasingly hindered him. His mobility was severely impaired by a back problem and his eyesight deteriorated so much due to the dreaded macular eye disease that he could hardly read. Nevertheless, and with great support from his catechist and the parishioners, he was able to continue as a pastor for a few more years. After he found a good successor from the Philippines two years ago, he decided with a heavy heart to return to Switzerland, where he was cared for with understanding by the nursing staff here in Immensee in the last months until he went home.
Ueli Scherer was my pastor
I experienced Ueli in Taiwan, in the Taitung city parish of Bao-Sang-Lu for just under three years – a relatively short time – between 1976 and 1979. Afterwards I went to Manila for further studies and when I returned to Taitung after two and a half years, he was already in Kaohsiung in western Taiwan, together with Gottfried Suter with the migrants.
At first Ueli was my pastor, I was his vicar. Ueli was very concerned that I should have as much contact as possible with the people of the parish after the two years of language study. We lived in a two-storey building. The lower floor was the worship space and we lived on the upper floor. The office doors were always open when we were at home, as is customary in Taiwan. Ueli moved into the back office and left the front one to me. When people came up the stairs, they had to pass by my office first. They couldn’t do that without exchanging a few words with me, even if they went to Ueli afterwards. So he actually let me have his Pastors’ Office as vicar, generous as he was. And I appreciated that very much, because that way I got to know the people and could practice my Chinese.
In order to continue to cultivate and learn the language, Ueli gave me very good tips, which he also practiced himself: One was that I should write Chinese characters for an hour every day. I did that and began to copy the Bible. Because the characters – that was the experience of the teachers in the language school – have to reach the heart through the hand over the arm so that one can retain them. And indeed, it paid off.
Another tip was to read exciting novels and stories where you are driven along by the story and don’t get stuck on every character you don’t know. That way, many characters go into your head without you learning them specifically because you see them again and again. That also proved its worth.
Ueli had time and took his time. We went to a small restaurant almost every Sunday evening after Evening Mass to eat either wonderful sashimi or small roasted fish – with a beer to go with it.
In winter we had to protect ourselves against the flu and so we very often sat together late at night and enjoyed the rather strong liquor, Gaoliang. This helped us to stay healthy. Monday was the day off and Ueli kept it strictly.
Further: Ueli had a strong voice, which showed itself in various ways.
During the time of Chiang-Kai-Shek’s dictatorship, control by the local foreign police was quite intense. Ueli was allergic to one particular foreign police officer, and when he came up and wanted to know this or that, Ueli gave him a clear message in his loud and strong voice that we SMB were in the service of the people and working for the good of Taiwan, and that he should get the hell out of here.
Ueli could also be loud from time to time when he didn’t like something. For me it was no problem. It just took a little patience until his voice became a little less loud again.
Ueli made the most beautiful contribution with his strong voice in our double quartet, which we SMB members were able to maintain for many years. With his strong sonorous bass he gave a perfect and secure foundation. We sang almost every free Monday. So Ueli was able to give me a very beautiful, exciting, varied and for me successful time as a vicar. I am very, very grateful to him for that!
For me, Ueli was the ideal pastor because he knew how to bring me closer to the Taiwanese, their language, their way of life and their hearts in his joyful and open way, so that I could really feel at home and Taiwan became a second home. Ueli, thank you very much!
Josef Meili SMB