Now and then readers ask me about Christian shrines and holy places throughout the world. I have received several requests to explain the "phenomenon" of Taizé in France, whose founder, Brother Roger Schutz, was killed a year ago.
Brother Roger, 90, was stabbed to death on Aug. 16, 2005 by a mentally disturbed Romanian woman at an evening prayer service at Taizé, in the Burgundy region of France.
The very day this tragic event took place, World Youth Day 2005 in Germany was underway with hundreds of thousands of young people, many of whom knew Taizé and its traditions. The two events were intimately connected.
The community of Taizé, founded in 1940, is located about one hour from Lyon, and not far from the ruins of the once powerful Middle Ages Abbey of Cluny in Burgandy. To first-time visitors, Taizé looks like anything but a huge, thriving centre of contemporary monasticism. But it has become the heart and soul of the ecumenical movement on a global scale. Taizé is living proof that size doesn't matter for the effectiveness and endurance of the Christian witness.
Brother Roger was born in a small Swiss village in 1915, the son of a Calvinist pastor. After World War II broke out, he and a small group of followers formulated the ideal of community, a sort of monastic "rule." Roger believed the only answer to conflict and division was reconciliation and unity.
The beauty of Taizé is that it has no specific program and proposes no particular spiritual path. It does not host theological dialogues nor organize international conferences. Taizé simply proposes a hunger for unity and a way of life.
For Brother Roger, Christ is not divided. Our divisions are an accident of human history. We can easily understand why Pope John XXIII, the father of the Second Vatican Council, loved the Taizé community and its mission of unity and peace. During Vatican II, "Papa Giovanni" granted a private audience to the brothers, exclaiming: "Ah, Taizé, that little springtime!"
Every pope since "Good Pope John" has been an admirer of Taizé. Pope John Paul II visited the community in 1986 and in 2000 told Brother Roger that without the experience of Taizé and its vocation to gather young people since the 1940s, World Youth Days would never have been possible.
Some 100,000 pilgrims arrive at Taizé each year, most of them young, to spend at least a week with the brothers and with one another. They represent all Christian backgrounds, the majority Catholic or Protestant, with sizeable Anglican delegations and a growing stream of Orthodox.
Liturgies are simple and reverent, with music that runs through one's mind long after formal worship is concluded. It was the Taizé chants that echoed through our subway cars and buses, streets and parks during World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.
Tribute from the Pope
Remembering Brother Roger recently, Pope Benedict XVI said: "Brother Roger was a testimony of Christian faith and ecumenical dialogue was a precious teaching for entire generations of young people."
Brother Alois Loeser, 53, succeeded Roger as prior of the community, but Roger's amazing legacy lives on. The French intellectual Marguerite Lena wrote: "History may one day judge that 'Europe' was constructed not just in Rome, Strasbourg or Brussels, but also in that tiny village in Burgundy where European youth from East and West, as well as from other continents, never tired of going." (Website: taize.fr/en
It is indeed "a little springtime" in the midst of all of Europe's problems and a welcome contrast to the divisions of the world and the churches.