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
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
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
On 21 August 1940, Bro. Roger, whose last name is Schutz,
at age 25 and alone, left his Homeland of Switzerland and arrived in
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 Genevičve,
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
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 Genevičve,
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
Some of them live in small fraternities, sharing the
conditions of the poor districts in Asia, Africa, and North and South
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
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
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.