Last summer, groups of students from Sophia University, Tokyo, and Hiroshima spent some days at Taizé; and a group from Kwansei Gakuin University spent a full week. Following these visits, the November visit to Japan provided an opportunity to meet with them at home. For everyone, the visit to Taizé and the prayer at their university made it possible to discover something of an interior life that is a source of solidarity with the earthquake victims. Here is how Keiji Utebi, chaplain at Kwansei Gakuin, describes the retreat that took place at Sengari Camp:
On the last week end of November 2011 we invited one of the Taizé brothers to lead a two day retreat for students at our camp site in Sengari, Sanda city. Since 2009, the retreat is becoming a regular annual event in our university calendar. Among the eighty participants, the students who had visited Taizé in the summer of 2011 became the core group for preparing the week end. They warmly welcomed all those who came to the retreat for the first time, just as they had been welcomed in Taizé in summer.
As it was the end of autumn, the nature at the camp site was impressive in its beauty, and the whole atmosphere of the retreat was very peaceful. The entire program was focused on the theme “Joy, Compassion, Forgiveness”, taken from Brother Alois’ “Letter for 2011”. All the participants were given the precious opportunity to look at their own lives with different eyes.
The first night, the young people had the opportunity to share on the theme of “joy”. Very spontaneously, they were asked to mime an experience of joy. It was extraordinary to see how their faces were transformed by the imagination and creativity these young people have. For the other themes, compassion and forgiveness, a different type of animation was proposed. On the last morning, everyone was asked to write a card that summarized the journey they had made during the short retreat. Music that corresponded to the three themes were played in three different halls and again, you could see the same young people in deep silence. It was so beautiful to discover the inner life of these young people most of whom have no religion.
The prayers at the common hall, decorated with icons and candles, were really significant. Sustained by the contribution of musicians, the participants sung very beautifully, and they remained together in serene silence. Although for most of them it was really first time to pray in such a way, they really loved and enjoyed that experience of praying together.
One girl spoke in the last sharing: “I came to the retreat this time because my friend invited me to come with her. To tell the truth, I did not expect so much before coming because in my impression religion or Christianity was of something that is only rigid and pushy. But the whole program of the retreat was far from that kind of thing! In all that we did these days, I really found freedom both in my own heart and also in the relationship with the others: a freedom which gives me strength to go forward”.