A text message from a friend during the night. Anne remembered long afterwards how she heard about the death of Brother Roger on 16 August last year, while she was on holiday. “My first reaction was to wonder how such violence could exist,” says the 28 year old school teacher. “I had in mind images of the village of Taizé, of the church, so calm; in such a setting, such an act seemed so incongruous!” So when she registered for the Taizé meeting in Milan – her fourth - she wondered just how this one could work “without Brother Roger”. “My friends and I were a little bit worried,” she admits.
But the gathering that began in Milan on Wednesday is taking place “in the usual way”, so much so that the young Frenchwoman could almost have been surprised: the same atmosphere, the same songs, the same prayers… All these groups from Eastern Europe, Polish, Lithuanian, Rumanians, and Ukrainians, call out to one another joyfully, in the thick snow that is falling without interruption on this Italian city: 50,000 young adults, according to the organizers, a certain number them carrying the light blue bags of the World Youth Days. But here, more than in Cologne this summer, the atmosphere is one of contemplation: in the evening, the silence of the prayer envelopes the immense exhibition park.
“In fact,” says Anne, looking at the snow that covers the milling crowd of young people, “Brother Roger is here, amongst us.” “The Taizé meetings without Brother Roger are a bit like the World Youth Days without John Paul II,” observes Father Johan Bonny, of the Pontifical Council for the Unity of Christians. “It is clear that Brother Roger was the instigator of these meetings; he was their expression. And yet it is quite obvious that the transition has taken place: the community has ensured continuity, and Brother Alois has replaced him, without a real break.”
“I would have liked him to be here still…”
“His absence is like a void”, whispers a young Russian Orthodox. This is his 7th or 8th European meeting; he is not quite sure which. “Sometimes Brother Roger shared the meal with us, he remembers, and I would have liked him to be here still…” Yet the time for grief and revolt is over. This evening, after the prayer, the young man even finds a certain “signification”, in Brother Roger’s death, “a spiritual meaning”. “When you think that he lived nearly sixty years in his monastery, and that, brutally, the violence of the world erupted in his life… His physical death is absurd, but you can say that Brother Roger went right to the end of his way of faith: he went as a martyr.”
It is difficult to understand, and Brother Alois, Brother Roger’s successor, speaks in his first meditation about a “tragic death” that “remains a mystery for us”, reminding us how Brother Roger had launched this “pilgrimage of trust” twenty eight years ago. He continues, “Throughout his life, Brother Roger often asked the question: why do the innocent suffer?” And now he himself has joined the number of those whose ordeal remains without an explanation.” But Brother Alois refuses to stop there, encouraging the young people today to follow “the way that Brother Roger has opened up.” A way that he describes in one word, “trust”, an expression that recurs all the way through the unfinished letter of Taizé’s founder, and which was distributed to all the young people in the meeting.
As she listens to him, Maria says approvingly, “Now we have to look to the future.” She is Ukrainian, a Greek Catholic from Kiev. “That death is a non-sense, but today we have to go forward, and hope.” And she quotes the final sentence of the “Unfinished Letter”: “To the extent that our community creates possibilities in the human family to widen…”
Looking for trust and hope
Widen, and act, exactly: during these four days the Taizé meeting proposes to the young people over twenty workshops for reflection, discussion and personal witness. The young people are interested in these propositions because the Taizé 2005 generation seems to be seeking especially trust and hope.
For Anne, for example, these rendez-vous certainly mean a necessary pause in a life that is “a little too full”. But above all, they provide the means for continuing to have faith “all the same” in our world: “If there are so many young people ready to spend New Year in prayer, and in a non-commercialised way, that really means that there is hope,” she says.
Trust and hope are also what Lucia is looking for. A 28 year old Slovak, this is her first Taizé meeting. She is a doctor, specializing in paediatrics and the treatment of cancer. She talks discreetly about her work where maintaining hope is “essential”. “It is not because we have faith that makes it easier to announce a difficult diagnosis to the parents of a sick child,” she admits. “No doubt, we manage to convey hope through our attitude, more than by words.”
This links up with the reflection of Marcelin, a young Portuguese originally from Togo. For him, the trust Brother Roger talks about is “a trust that is first of all inward, that affects us in our attitude: we can only transform the world from within, as Brother Roger did.” “That is true,” says Sophia who is also Portuguese, “Brother Roger had the gift of speaking of things that touched you from within.” And she goes on to say how last year in Lisbon, when Brother Roger spoke of peace, it “touched” her so much.
“No doubt, because hope resides first of all in a relationship and Brother Roger knew how to bring that relationship to life,” adds Father Constantino Fiore. For this young priest from the Milan parish of Francesca Romana, one of the 350 parishes that welcomed the participants, hope is born not from speeches nor from roles: “You cannot reach the heart of someone except by a relationship.” It is in this that the young diocesan priest notes with some nostalgia how much the presence of Brother Roger is missing. “He was not content just with words about hope. He lived it.”
Isabelle de Gaulmyn, La Croix, 30 December 2005
The next Taizé European young adult meeting will take place in Zagreb, from 28 December 2006 to 1 January 2007, in response to the invitation of Cardinal Josip Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb and President of the Croatian Bishops Conference.