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The hill of Taizé

· Brother Roger Schutz and the Community of Taizé ·

It was on 20 August 1940, 60 years ago, that Roger Schutz first arrived at Taizé. During the war, in that summer when France was oppressed by the invader, the young Swiss Calvinist pastor could not of course imagine that in a not so distant future – already by the 1950s – many other young Europeans would come. Multitudes were to climb that hill in the heart of Burgundy, in the gently undulating countryside, often while towering clouds raced across the horizon.

First, rather like him, they would even hitch-hike to get there; later they came from the entire continent in organized groups, especially in the summer or at Easter.

In the liturgical calendar 20 August is the feast of St Bernard – who lived at Cîteaux, not far from Taizé and only a few kilometres from Cluny – under the sign of the monastic reforms that had an incisive effect on the Church's history.

And already in 1940 the young Schutz began to take in refugees and Jews, thinking of a project of community life with a few friends. He founded a community two years later in Geneva, since it was then impossible for him to remain in France.

Having returned to Taizé during the war he resumed this activity, this time taking in German prisoners and orphaned children.

Those who go there find a small bungalow and not much else other than the old houses and the Romanesque church, surrounded by a tiny cemetery; they meet with a welcome that embodies the ancient hospitality in Christ's name, written in the Rule of St Benedict.

The monastic vocation itself had always attracted Roger and his companions, who were all of Protestant origin but sensitive to the riches of the different currents of Christianity. And in 1949 they were already committed to a form of community life that followed in the wake of Benedictine and Ignatian spirituality, and that Brother Roger outlined a few years later in the Règle de Taizé [Rule of Taizé].

That same year, together with one of his first companions, Max Thurian, Brother Roger was received by Pius XII. From 1958 their meetings with the Pope – John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, who was on that hill in 1986 – became an annual custom, expressing a closeness which from the end of the 1960s was to attract an increasing number of Catholics.

And already many years before he was killed by a deranged woman on 16 August 2005, Brother Roger had designated a young German Catholic, Alois Löser, to succeed him as leader of the community.

In 1962, the Prior with several brothers began, in the most complete secrecy, a series of visits to several Eastern European countries, while a modern church was being inaugurated in Taizé, the “Église de la Reconciliation”.

A very large space – but which had to be enlarged, at first with tents, in order to house the thousands of pe0ple who came in the summer weeks – was made available for prayer three times a day in various languages. With their long moments of silence and meditative hymns, today very widespread, these three daily meetings deeply impressed those who arrived on the hill for the first time.

For the opening of a “youth council” in August 1974, more than 40,000 young people came to Taizé from every corner of Europe. They were housed in a tent city, rendered even more precarious by a torrential downpour. Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, Paul VI's Envoy, wandered calmly among them, speaking kindly to the young people who approached him who were barely more than 20 years old, muddy and tired but impressed by the ecumenical challenge of the community.

Every evening for decades Brother Roger, following the great Christian Tradition, would hold a brief meditation for them. After the prayer he would stop to welcome and listen to those who wished to talk to him or solely to be near him.

In the years of the student protest and the drifting away from the faith of so many, this was the revolution of Taizé. Lutte et contemplation [struggle and contemplation] was the heading the Prior chose as the title of the diary of those years while the community was beginning a “pilgrimage of trust” on the various continents. It sought reconciliation and sharing with the forms of poverty in the world, rekindling faith that was almost extinguished in many contexts of Central Europe, fanning its flame in the countries stifled by Communism and familiarizing many young Catholics with an even broader openness.

Taizé never intended to be a movement but has always encouraged involvement in parishes and local situations. It does so by practising hospitality, by encouraging the peacemakers of the Gospel Beatitude, by working for union among the Churches and Communities of believers in Christ, by demonstrating the vitality and effectiveness of an ecumenical spiritual journey.

A lesson Brother Roger, notre frère [our brother], learned as a young man and to which he witnessed throughout his life as an authentic pioneer of an “ecumenism of holiness”, in Cardinal Bertone's words on behalf of Benedict XVI. May ecumenism succeed in reconciling the riches of the different Christian denominations: the attention to the Bible stressed in Protestantism, the splendour of the Orthodox Liturgy, the Catholic centrality of the Eucharist, before which, in Taizé, a tiny light always shines, meaning adoration of the one Lord.

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