Tribute To Brother Roger, Founder of Taizé

Author: Giampaolo Mattei

Tribute To Brother Roger, Founder of Taizé

Giampaolo Mattei

He Helped All People Seek Truth, Hope, God

Milan is the city that will offer hospitality to the next European Youth Meeting sponsored by the Taizé Community from 28 December to 1 January 2006. Thousands of young people — over 100,000 are expected — will take part in this ecclesial event that since 1978 has become a much-anticipated reference point for European Christians.

The knowledge of this rendezvous was the best possible "present" to give Bro. Roger on his 90th birthday: he was born on 12 May 1915.

The witness of Christian life borne by the Founder of the Taizé Community is a shining beacon in the history of faith of countless people, especially the young generations who have breathed  "the spirit of Taizé", a Christian spirit of prayer and reconciliation, of hope and trust, of unity and peace.

With that extraordinary Christian insight which gave birth to the Ecumenical Community of Taizé — located in the heart of Burgundy, France, between Cluny and Citeaux and in the same Department as Paray-ie-Monial — Bro. Roger, before his tragic death on 16 August always opened new paths that led to "the healing of the wounds that divide Christians". He always saw reconciliation of believers in Christ as the way to overcome human conflicts.

Bro. Roger: love for Christ

Today, the Taizé Community exists in various parts of the world: among the poor in Bangladesh, in Brazil and Senegal even New York.

Much has been written about Taizé but its essential truth goes far beyond a few great ''spectacular" successes, such as the traditional meetings that see the old year out and the new year in.

It is thus impossible to write a full and detailed biography of Bro. Roger. His life and work, however, could be summed up in a few key words: prayer, contemplation, youth formation, reconciliation, peace, ecumenism, service to the poor; or in a single phrase: love for Christ.

On 21 August 1940, Bro. Roger, whose last name is Schutz, at age 25 and alone, left his Homeland of Switzerland and arrived in Taizé.

For many years pulmonary tuberculosis plagued Bro. Roger. During his long illness, he developed a vocation to create a community where simplicity and kind-heartedness would be lived daily.

So it was that he prepared through suffering for the birth of a community that would daily practice reconciliation, And he achieved this in the thick of the miseries and hardships of World War II.

Bro. Roger's decisive meeting with Max Thurian took place in Geneva on 5 January 1942. Together they discussed the nascent community and the life of prayer.

Seeking visible unity

When this tragic conflict broke out, Bro. Roger was certain, as his grandmother had been before the First World War that he had to help people who were passing through that experience of bloodshed.

The little village of Taizé was very near the demarcation line that divided France in two: he was consequently well placed to welcome people fleeing from the horrors of war. And in Taizé, Bro. Roger had used a modest loan to purchase a house with outbuildings.

He suggested to Geneviève, one of his sisters, that she help him with taking people in, Among the refugees welcomed were many Jews.

Material means were scant. Since they had no running water, they would go to draw water from the village well. Food was scarce; all they had to eat was soup from maize flour bought cheaply at the neighboring mill.

Out of discretion to those they took in, Bro. Roger would pray by himself. To sing the Lord's praise, he would often wander far from the house into the woods in order not to embarrass Jewish or agnostic refugees. It was at home, from his mother, that Bro. Roger had learned prayers and singing, typical of the Taizé experience. Over the years he honed these talents.

The parents of Roger and Geneviève, aware that their two children were exposed to the dangers of war, asked a family friend, a retired French official, to keep an eye on them. He did so conscientiously. In 1942 this same friend warned them that they had been "discovered": so they all had to leave immediately.

Almost two years later, Bro. Roger was able to return to Taizé. By then he was no longer alone, for he had been joined by several brothers with whom he lived in community and continued to do so at Taizé.

Bro. Roger's great concern from the outset had been the search for the visible unity of Christians. In this regard, Abbot Couturier of Lyons proved to be an important guide.

Indeed, it was this Abbot who organized an ecumenical meeting in September 1942 at the Abbey of Dommes, in which the great theologian Henri de Lubac took part. Henceforth, the vocation of Taizé was clearly defined: liturgical life, and prayer for unity and reconciliation in the Church.

Members from everywhere

Together with Max Thurian, Bro. Roger studied St Francis, and life at Taizé was modeled on the Franciscan Rule.

As the years passed, other brothers joined the Founder of Taizé. On Easter Day, 17 April 1949, the first seven brothers committed themselves for ever to community life, celibacy and a very simple lifestyle at a ceremony in the tiny Romanesque church built by the monks of Cluny in the 12th century. Although the first monks came from different evangelical backgrounds, it was not long before the first Catholic brothers joined the Community that now has members from more than 25 nations.

Some of them live in small fraternities, sharing the conditions of the poor districts in Asia, Africa, and North and South America.

From 1962 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the brothers and young people sent out from Taizé have continued to come and go with great discretion in Central and Eastern European countries, then under the Communist regime, to be close to those imprisoned within their frontiers by the so-called "Iron Curtain".

Bro. Roger's simple meditations live on in young peoples' hearts; so do his deep spiritual friendships, with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and with the Popes, from Pius XII to Benedict XVI.

"Bro. Roger", the Swiss Bishops wrote in a congratulatory message on his 90th birthday, "is the very image of how to live ecumenism and is an example for us all", especially youth.

An upcoming meeting

In the meantime, the spiritual pilgrimage to Milan has already begun. The announcement at the end-of-the-year meeting was made by Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Milan: "It will be an especially important moment of Christian witness in this city of ours of which we are active members, sent out by the Lord Jesus himself to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world". Cardinal Tettamanzi, described the meeting as a valuable opportunity "to return to the roots of our faith and invigorate it so as to be authentic and contagious witnesses of it for many other young people and for every man and woman we encounter on our way".

The meeting promises to have the same dynamism and vigor that the just-completed World Youth Day had in Cologne, Germany.

The Archdiocese of Milan, which hosted the Taizé "New Year's meeting" in 1998, immediately and enthusiastically took on the task of organizing the young pilgrims' reception in families and parish communities.

Milan, therefore, is the new "halt" on the "Pilgrimage of trust on earth" that Taizé introduced in 1978. The first meeting, in fact, was held in Paris in the year John Paul It was elected: a truly significant "coincidence".

This gathering, whose form and substance were a novelty at the time, was followed by others in Barcelona (1979), Rome (1980), London (1981), Rome (1982), Paris (1983), Cologne (1984), Barcelona (1985), London (1986), Rome (1987), Paris (1988), Wroclaw (1989), Prague (1990), Budapest (1991), Vienna (1992), Munich (1993), Paris (1994), Wroclaw (1995), Stuttgart (1996), Vienna (1997), Milan (1998), Warsaw (1999), Barcelona (2000), Budapest (2001), Paris (2002), Hamburg (2003), and Lisbon (2004).

Bro. Roger: on what unites

The Milan meeting will crown many months of spiritual preparation and organization. "The young people come from different Churches and Christian traditions", Bro. Roger explained. "They cross various human and geographical boundaries. They come to fix their gaze not on what divides them but on what unites them, not to reinforce their pessimism but to perceive signs of hope".

But what impels thousands of young people to cross Europe in midwinter, sometimes on old buses that are falling apart, to attend a prayer meeting? What convinces them to spend the feast days and New Year's Eve in absolute simplicity and Gospel poverty?

These are the questions Europe is pondering while this sea of young Christians is about to cross it. They are seeking truth, beauty and hope. They are seeking God.

It is not the intention of the Taizé "Pilgrimage" to organize these young people into a movement around the community. Instead, it asks them to be champions of peace and reconciliation in their own cities, countries and local Churches, among all age-groups, from children to the elderly.

This is a great "gift" to Europe; it is a "gust" of trust and hope and a "window open" to the future.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
24 August 2005, page 18

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