Today, you saw that we placed in the front of the church an icon we call “the icon of friendship.” Why? It is because today is the seventh anniversary of Brother Roger’s death and he loved that icon, which was painted in Egypt in the sixth century.
Brother Roger loved that icon because it shows Christ putting his arm around the shoulder of his friend, that friend of Christ who we all are. Brother Roger lived in the conviction that God is alongside every human being, even those who are not aware of it.
Through this confidence in the presence of God in everyone, he found joy and peace that he sought to communicate to others. And even if the wound of separation is sometimes still alive for us, we never want to forget how Brother Roger was a bearer of joy.
To us, the brothers of the community, Brother Roger often said: “We are not spiritual masters.” These words were not a call to give up the pastoral responsibility we have for all those who come to us.
In saying “We are not spiritual masters,” he meant this: we do not want to show ourselves to others but, like John the Baptist, we want to show Christ by our lives, prepare the way that leads to him. And for that Brother Roger added: “We are above all men who listen.”
The witness that Brother Roger called us to give is close to that of John the Baptist, the Precursor, in another area—simplicity of life.
Of course our small community does not claim to compete with the asceticism of John, who lived in the desert, wearing an animal skin, eating locusts and wild honey. However, Brother Roger was very concerned that he himself, and we his brothers, show great simplicity in our daily lives. This concern was strong in him until the very end.
He liked to recall that ever since the believers of the early days, since the apostles, John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary, whom we celebrated yesterday, there has been a call to live in great simplicity and to share.
I hesitate to add one more thing about John the Baptist. Who knows? Perhaps the violent death of Brother Roger, having his throat cut here in this church during evening prayer, is also, mysteriously, a sign of closeness to John the Baptist, who was decapitated.
Many do not know that Brother Roger had a character that was sometimes anxious. Often it was this tendency that made him so creative. If he was able to communicate joy and trust in God, it is because they involved an inner struggle within him.
This tendency to worry, far from paralyzing him, led him constantly to reflect, to be ceaselessly alert. He was always trying to put an intuition into practice. Always, often day and night, he worried about others.
But how could he always return to inner joy and peace? In part because of his ability to receive each day as God’s today. He let himself be inspired by events and the people he met. He dared to create something new even in conditions that seemed to condemn the effort in advance.
He struggled until the very end to trust in the presence of God. That is perhaps what made him able to see so well the changes in our societies. Often he discerned, long before others, what was springing up.
Trust in God gave him the courage to anticipate the movement of history by a few steps. He opened roads that seemed impossible. And this both concerning reconciliation among Christians as well as for peace in the human family.
Simplifying and sharing: year after year, we are trying to continue to respond to this call, so often repeated by Brother Roger. And this year it is especially with Africa that we would like to deepen a sharing.
Before the European meeting in Rome, you know, we will hold a meeting of African young adults in Kigali, Rwanda. On this occasion we would like to listen to the expectations and aspirations of young Africans today; we want to be attentive to what they can convey to young people from other continents.
Throughout this summer, and this week too, youth ministers from Rwanda are here to help us prepare for this meeting.
And this year we also want to make a gesture of solidarity, in which everyone can take part, with South Sudan. Twenty years of war have created a country that is well behind in its development; illiteracy especially is widespread.
Many young people of South Sudan have known only violence, but now there is a great effort to show the younger generations the meaning of agricultural labor or stimulate them to study. Through Operation Hope, we will support, now and over the next three years, deprived children in the town of Rumbek.