Tuesday evening, December 28, 2010
I would like to begin by saying a word to the Dutch.
(In Dutch) I would have preferred to express what I am going to say in your language, but so that all the others are able to understand, it is better than I speak in English.
It is a joy to hold a European meeting in the Netherlands for the first time. Your country has always been open to the world. We counted on your hospitality. And we were not disappointed. Almost all the young people are being welcomed in families.
On behalf of all these young Europeans, many thanks to the inhabitants of Rotterdam and its surroundings, the Church leaders and the mayor of the city!
The invitation to come here came from the different Churches of the country. It is a sign for the future of the Church that we are gathered together in the beautiful diversity of all those who place their trust in Christ.
We would also like to open our hearts fully to those who are taking part in the meeting without having Christ as their reference-point, especially those from the Muslim community.
Our hearts would also like to be open to all those who cannot believe in God and are searching for meaning in their lives. Faith in Christ does not distance us from those who cannot believe; Christ came to make us more human, to make us brothers and sisters of all.
To prepare the future of our societies we are all in the same boat. As a matter of fact, the way in which our places of worship here in the halls of Ahoy are decorated, with these sails like a boat, expresses this well.
Each of us would like to find a personal response to basic questions such as: What can give direction to my life? What purpose is there for which it is worth giving ourselves?
This spring, in Taizé, a young Dutch woman asked me what I expected from the meeting in Rotterdam. My answer, perhaps a bit too spontaneous, was: “Joy.” This reply has never left me. I think that this is what we should look for during these days.
Two weeks ago, I was in Santiago for our second Latin American meeting. Joy characterized that meeting. For many young Latin Americans, faith in God is linked to the joy of living, and the joy of friendship.
Yet the people of Chile have had a hard year. They celebrated the bicentennial of their independence, but the celebration was marred by difficulties of all sorts. The earthquake and the violence of the sea affected the poorest most of all, and the gap between rich and poor, which people thought was being narrowed, appeared again cruelly.
The day the meeting began, a terrible fire in a prison in Santiago left dozens dead and many wounded. With some brothers went to a poor district to visit a mother who had lost her son Israel in the fire. He was just 21 years old. I wish you could have seen the face of that woman! In her despair and her grief she remained so dignified.
If we are trying these days to revive our joy in living, this is not a facile joy, a flight from difficulties and suffering. It is rather gratefulness for the gift of life. And I would like to emphasize the word “gift”. Life is a gift that does not come from us.
Today we generally have the feeling that we can create our existence ourselves. And it is true that technical progress gives us unprecedented creative opportunities to take our destiny in hand. But it seems to me essential to cultivate the attitude of accepting life, to begin by welcoming it just as it appears.
Accepting life as a gift can make us see existence and all creation in a new light that awakens in us joy as well as a sense of responsibility.
Tomorrow morning you will reflect on the Gospel call to joy and you will ask yourselves how to opt for joy. We can do so in the confidence that God sends us his Holy Spirit to guide us in this search.
Wednesday evening, December 29, 2010
Ten days ago, after the Latin American meeting in Chile, I spent two days in Haiti. Many years ago some of us were already there with Brother Roger, and since then the links with that country have become stronger and stronger. Twenty-five young Haitians attended the meeting in Santiago.
Last year the earthquake, then a hurricane, then the disease of cholera ravaged Haiti. As a result, throughout the world an enormous wave of sympathy arose. And I think we all want to be close to that people beset by misfortune.
When I arrived at Port-au-Prince, the young bishop Pierre Dumas welcomed me and we went immediately to pray beside the ruins of the cathedral. On the way there, right in the city, there are tents as far as the eye can see: one and a half million of Haiti’s seven million people are still living crowded together in them. Because of the harshness of life, outbreaks of violence are more and more common; they could well inflame the whole country.
On Sunday morning, about 400 children gathered at the sisters of Mother Teresa for the Eucharist. Most were orphans. In a room nearby there were babies. Some were seriously ill.
I am still marked by the time I spent with those babies. Where did they come from? Will they live long? – questions without answers. But being there beside them, seeing how they try to catch our gaze, was a moment of profound compassion.
Compassion is never one-sided. In giving we receive. During those two days in Haiti we often stopped to pray for a moment together with a few people; it was quite natural.
And once again I realized that the Haitians draw from trust in God an exceptional ability to persevere against all odds. Even in incomprehensible suffering Christ is present, deeper than all the misfortunes. We would like to let their trust in God penetrate us.
Among us here in Rotterdam there are three Haitians currently living in Taizé. Although we cannot all know what suffering they went through in recent months, we would like to tell them that we remain close to them. Christina will say a few words.
Christina: We would like to thank you for your solidarity. So many people around the world are helping our country. But you should also know that the rebuilding of Haiti must come from us. There are many young people there who are willing to take on responsibilities. We are preparing ourselves for this. Thank you for supporting us; thank you for praying for us and not forgetting Haiti.
Our Taizé Community will initiate a concrete step. With the collection called “Operation Hope” we will support projects that exist in Haiti for children in difficulty, especially for their education. Everyone can take part; you will find out how on the Taizé website.
Tomorrow morning in the groups, you are going to ask yourselves how compassion can fill our lives more and more. There are forms of poverty and injustice all around us, even in affluent societies. What awakens my generosity? Do I dare to go towards those who suffer, even with empty hands? Can we pay more attention to our lifestyle, to achieve tangible solidarity with those who are poorer than we are?
Yes, the joy in living which we all seek is also found in this openness to others, beginning with those who are entrusted to us and who are alongside us. Opting for joy is inseparable from a concern for others, for our neighbor.
Let me conclude by saying the prayer that we can repeat throughout the coming year. You can find it in the Letter from Chile:
God our hope, we entrust to you the people of Haiti. Dismayed by the incomprehensible suffering of the innocent, we ask you to inspire the hearts of those who bring the necessary aid. We know the deep faith of the Haitian people. Assist those who suffer; strengthen those who are downcast; comfort those who mourn; pour out your Spirit of compassion upon this deeply stricken and deeply loved people.
Thursday evening, December 30, 2010
It is a joy to be together these days from so many countries and from different Christian traditions. In this way we can discover once again that Christ brings us all together in one communion, the communion of his Church.
And we thank with all our hearts those who, without sharing our faith in Christ, have joined us these days so we can express together the same desire for peace and reconciliation on earth.
“Peace on earth!” This proclamation is found at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. Each of us can contribute to this peace on earth. But it must first be born again and again within ourselves.
This involves a personal quest. Today people refer a lot less than yesterday to traditions and institutions. Answers given in the past to the basic questions of life are not accepted without first being discussed.
Faith in God also requires a personal decision today. This decision does not exclude doubt, but it keeps our hearts open to welcome inner peace over and over again.
Where can we find the source of inner peace? It is in forgiveness. Through Christ the announcement made centuries earlier became a reality: “God forgives all your sins.” To give this forgiveness, Christ accepted and accepts to take evil upon himself.
If I spoke at length about forgiveness in the Letter from Chile, that is because we have a vital need for it in our personal lives and in our societies. And this will be the topic of your reflection in the groups tomorrow morning.
In entrusting our lives to God’s forgiveness we find freedom and profound joy. This forgiveness makes us responsible. In our turn we want to forgive those who have offended us. Sometimes the wound is too deep and we are not able to forgive others. Then we should pray for them if we can, and know that the desire to forgive is already the beginning of it.
Our societies also need forgiveness. Europe needs forgiveness in order to be built. In the Netherlands, earlier generations experienced this, after the terrible war in which this country and especially the city of Rotterdam suffered so much.
Of course, forgiveness does not take away the need for justice, but rather extends it. I would like to recall the words of a man who had great political responsibilities and who is with us for this meeting: “We could contribute greatly to peace by refusing to transmit the memory of past wounds to the next generation.” This does not mean forgetting a painful past, but the Gospel calls us to go beyond memory through forgiveness, to interrupt the chain reaction that perpetuates resentments.
In Latin America, for years political tensions have opposed Bolivia and Chile. During our most recent meeting in Santiago, at one point the young Bolivians went together to join the Chilean youth in their meeting-place. With a poem they expressed their commitment to reconciliation.
In the coming year we will continue our pilgrimage of trust. It is so obvious that it is essential to create trust between peoples and societies, through meetings and personal interaction, especially at times when economic hardships are more apparent.
Each week during the next year, the meetings at Taizé will continue to allow everyone to deepen a reflection on the wellsprings of the faith.
Many young people from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia come to Taizé and to the European meetings; so many are here in Rotterdam. In April we will go with some brothers and with young people from throughout Europe to celebrate Holy Week and the feast of Easter with the Orthodox Church. The Russian patriarchate has invited us. It is a unique opportunity to get to know that Church better. Orthodox parishes and families will welcome us. It will take place in the city of Moscow.
A year from now, from December 28, 2011 to January 1, 2012, the next European meeting will be held. It will be in a city where it has never taken place before and where young people have been waiting for us for a long time: we have been invited in Germany, by all the Churches and by the mayor of the city of Berlin.
Our pilgrimage of trust will also continue on other continents. We have been invited to prepare an international meeting in an African country. Two years from now, from November 14-18, 2012, Christians of Rwanda will welcome us in the city of Kigali.
Friday afternoon, December 31, 2010
Today I want to express our gratefulness for the hospitality we have received here in Rotterdam and the surrounding areas. We want to thank the host churches, and especially all those who opened their hearts and their homes to the young people. Thank you to the church leaders, and all those who supported the preparation of this meeting. Thank you to the civil authorities who lent their collaboration.
Joy, compassion, forgiveness: these three values of the Gospel that you have reflected on these days are realities intensely lived out by many. So we brothers want them to inspire more and more our own lives and the lives of those whom we welcome to Taizé.
In many countries, it has become more difficult to refer to God. Today many people are seriously seeking meaning in their lives, but cannot believe in a God who loves them personally. It seems inconceivable to them that God is alongside them.
For others, too many trials make faith impossible. If God exists, why is it evil so powerful? In a universe whose complexity and infinity we are more and more aware of, how can we imagine a God who is everywhere, who takes care both of the whole universe and of every human being in particular? If God exists, does he hear our prayers, does he answer them?
And yet the question of God seems ineradicable from the human spirit. In every woman, every man and every child there is a desire to love and be loved, a desire to be recognized in their human dignity, a desire for a love that lasts forever. Does not this yearning for a “forever” express a nostalgia for God?
Is it possible to believe in God in the modern world? Faith is experienced today more as a risk, the risk of trusting. Taking this risk calls upon all our human capacities, those of the heart as well as those of the mind.
Even if we are believers, we do not always try enough to deepen our faith. Sometimes a gap grows wider between knowledge in the realm of faith and knowledge acquired in other areas. A faith which remains at the level of phrases learned during childhood has a hard time dealing with questions that arise when we are grown up.
The search for a personal communion with God is thus all the more important. How can we go deeper into it? How can we nourish our hope there?
Even if we understand little of the Gospel, we can seek to grasp more starting from a few words that we try to put into practice. We can all ask ourselves: what are the words of the Gospel that touch me and that I want to put into practice today and in the time to come?
Each of us can communicate to others our hope in Christ. It may not always be through words, but still more by the life we live. Then something surprising happens: it is by passing on the message of Christ’s resurrection that we understand it more and more ourselves. Then this mystery becomes increasingly central to our existence; it can change our lives.
Yes, let us dare to communicate to others, through our life, the message of the Gospel, the hope of this love for ever.
And gradually we discover ourselves that God is there, close to us. By his Spirit he dwells within us. And when we are close to God, a gift of hospitality can spring to life in us. Welcoming those who are entrusted to us, giving them a place in our lives, becomes our main concern. In prayer, we become more sensitive to those who have no home: abandoned children, immigrants, homeless persons.
One day Brother Roger wrote: “In that unique communion which is the Church, God offers all we need to go to the wellsprings: the Gospel, the Eucharist, the peace of forgiveness...” And Brother Roger concluded: “So the holiness of Christ is no longer out of reach; it is here, close at hand.”
As believers, we do not follow an ideal; we follow a person, Christ. We are not alone; he goes before us. All of us, even if we are poor and vulnerable, are called to reflect Christ’s holiness in our life. Each of us can communicate to those around them a tiny light like the one we are going to share with one another.
And God does not get tired of setting out with us. We can believe that communion with him is possible, and never get tired ourselves of always having to begin the struggle again, as humble women and men who trust in the mercy of God.