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Taizé commitment to reconciliation outlives its founder

Brother Roger Schutz, 90, founder of the Taizé community in southeastern France, died on Aug. 16 of stab wounds inflicted during the evening worship service attended by 2,500 people.

A Romanian woman, whom authorities consider mentally unstable, stabbed him in the neck.  He died immediately.  Onlookers detained her.  She is in custody. The community has appointed 51-year-old Brother Alois, a German Roman Catholic whom he designated as his successor.

Taizé, a community and movement
, builds ecumenical reconciliation and dialogue among Christians—Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox—and promotes love, peace and justice.

Brother Roger

Brother Roger Schutz, Taizé founder

From early spring to late autumn, 3,000 to 6,000 young people from 75 countries gather each week at Taizé in Burgundy, 240 miles from Paris, discovering a new sense of communion.

Today the community consists of more than 100 brothers—Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Evangelicals and other Protestants, from more than 25 nations.

As a 25-year-old Swiss Reformed minister
, Brother Roger left Switzerland and bought a small house in the village of Taizé to begin with three others a community where they would live Christian reconciliation daily.

They asked the Catholic bishop to use the village church. It was such an unusual request that the bishop referred it to Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, who was later Pope John XXIII. The archbishop gave his consent and became a friend of the new community. Located a few miles from a demarcation line dividing France in two during the early years of World War II, Brother Roger was able to hide refugees, particularly Jews, in the house.

After the war, others joined them
, and on Easter Day, 1949, the first brothers made a commitment to celibacy, community possessions, and simplicity. 

From the 1950s on, some brothers went to Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe to be a presence of love among the poor, street children, prisoners, the dying, and those who are wounded by broken relationships and abandonment.

Taizé became a popular pilgrimage place
for young people from across Europe and around the world.  They come for “an inner pilgrimage” that encourages them to build relationships and then return home to take responsibility to make the world a better place to live. 

By the 1960s, when tens of thousands began coming each year, the community built the Church of  Reconciliation. World Catholic News reported that Pope John Paul II first met Brother Roger at the Second Vatican Council, where Brother Roger was invited as a non-Catholic expert. As a Polish archbishop, the future pope visited Taizé twice.

The Catholic News Agency commented
that, although not Catholic, Brother Roger was closely associated with the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II esteemed him and his community. The two were long-time friends.

In April at the funeral Mass  for Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict XVI—served Brother Roger communion, making an exception to the rule that Protestants cannot take the Catholic Eucharist, according to these Catholic news agencies.

In May, a Taizé monk told Kristine Zakarison of Pullman that Brother Roger was one of the first persons Pope Benedict XVI served Eucharist, because of his “commitment to reconciliation and his humanitarian service.”

“Even as an individual in a group of 5,000, I personally felt embraced by his living presence of reconciliation and his call to work for reconciliation, to walk the walk, to step beyond boundaries,” she said. 

Associated Press reported that Pope Benedict said Brother Roger had written him, expressing his desire to come to Rome to meet him and to tell him how “the community of Taizé intends to walk in communion with the pope.’’

The internet shared comments of leaders about Brother Roger:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England, described him as “one of the best-loved Christian leaders of our times.” President Jacques Chirac praised him as ‘‘one of the most remarkable servants of the values of respect and tolerance.’’

The head of the Roman Catholic Conference of French Bishops, Bordeaux Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard, said Brother Roger ‘‘often met with the youth of the world to teach them to bear witness to the transforming power of love.’’

The World Council of Churches leadership
expressed its grief in a letter of condolence from acting general secretary Geneviève Jacques: “Brother Roger died as he lived, praying at the center of his community.  His witness to the gospel and to ecumenical dialogue has been enormously influential.”  She praised his “unceasing search for authentic ecumenical dialogue” which reached across “institutional barriers.”

“Thousands of people, young and not so young, have found in the Taizé community a unique place of spiritual refreshment and openness to others through listening to the word of God.  “Under his spiritual leadership, the Taizé community has offered a model that integrates praising God by living out liturgical renewal together with practical solidarity towards those who are most deprived.

“We pray that those who witnessed the violent death may find the strength to continue the struggle to overcome violence in our world. We also pray for the woman responsible for this fatal act, that through the grace of God her life may be transformed,” Geneviève said.

General Secretary Bob Edgar of the U.S. National Council of Churches
said: “Brother Roger and the Taizé Community ministered to millions, offering a model of living and worship that brings us closer to each other and God.

He said Taizé prayers and hymns are common in U.S. congregations, and Americans are responding to their messages of peace, reconciliation and spirituality:  “Tens of thousands of American congregations hold regular Taizé prayer services and sing the songs. “The violent nature of his passing is appalling, and makes it all the more essential for us to embrace the Taizé message,” Bob said.

The Taizé community’s website—www.taizé.fr—said:  “In the face of violence, we can respond only by peace. Brother Roger never stopped insisting on this. Peace requires a commitment of our whole being, inwardly and outwardly. It demands our whole person.”

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - Copyright © September 2005