Just before the departure for Zagreb, the final practical information sheet had recommended taking warm clothes. The advice was far from superfluous. Huddled behind a small mountain, the Croatian capital is not sheltered from the rigours of winter. Prudently, everyone had brought woolly hats, thick anoraks and sturdy shoes. And the fervour of the welcome was quick to warm the hearts of even the most shivery.
All the pilgrims in this 29th European young adults meeting – around 40,000, from thirty or so countries (1) – stayed with families. Audrey Marty and her friends from the Aveyron could not find words to praise the qualities of their hosts, and the mobilisation of the young people who received the groups in 150 parishes of the city and the surrounding area: “Really, they pulled out all the stops!”
“The welcome in the families has touched us very much”, confided Brother Richard, of Taizé. He speaks Croatian and was part of the preparation team that arrived at the beginning of September. Some of the families had suffered greatly in the war. Others are refugees.
“Everyone has made a wonderful effort. They really opened the doors of their hearts and their homes. Cardinal Josip Bosanic, Archbishop of Zagreb, and his auxiliary bishops were constantly by our sides and helped very much with the work of organisation. The same goes for the municipality and the civil and political authorities. Indeed, several personalities, including the Prime Minister, Ivo Salader, were firmly decided on manifesting their friendship and solidarity through their presence at one of the evening prayers during the meeting. Even the Grand Mufti of Croatia and the Rabbi of Zagreb wished to spend some time with us.”
To the sources of the Gospel through prayer
The young adult meetings, organised each year in a major city of Europe by the ecumenical Community of Taizé, wish to resemble the meetings on the hill in Burgundy. “They are an invitation to go to the sources of the Gospel through prayer, silence, and searching.” Also called “a pilgrimage of trust on earth”, they aim to nourish our hope. Many young adults have many questions, Brother Alois, prior of the Community, recalled several times during his daily meditations.
“Material insecurity is growing, even in our prosperous Europe”, he underlined. “Unemployment causes many to emigrate, violence, flagrant injustice, ecological imbalances undermine people’s confidence in life… And yet there are many signs of hope. Today we are enabled to see one of them: so many young people are ready to make the unity of the human family more visible; they are prepared not to remain passive, but to set out in the confidence that a future of peace is possible.”
During five days, overcoming the obstacles of language, nationality, past conflicts and religious confessions, the young adults in Zagreb sought how “to find the energies necessary for confronting the future with courage and confidence: their own future and the future of their societies and of the Church”. Each morning in the parishes they meditated and discussed in small groups the Letter from Kolkata, written by Brother Alois following the Asian meeting held there in October.
In the afternoons, they took part in different theme workshops in the Exhibition Centre and in the city. The wide range of possibilities on offer could satisfy the most diverse interests. Some visited the mosque and were welcomed by the mufti; other discovered something of Croatian folk tradition, or the Orthodox Church of Serbia; still others came together to discuss initiatives of human solidarity…
The same passion for reconciliation
Natalia comes from Moscow. Her parents are atheist; she spent eight months as a volunteer in Taizé. She tells how the prayer of the Community helped her to enter into her own Orthodox tradition. Jean-Denis and Sébastien, members of the L’Arche Community at Ambleteuse, in the Pas-de-Calais, particularly liked the small groups and the long evening prayer: an hour of singing, readings, the celebration of light and around the Cross.
Julien and Aude, 22 year old Parisians, are regular participants in the Taizé meetings and the World Youth Days. “The idea is the same;” says Julian, “to bring together the young people and to give them a fresh spiritual boost. But the WYDs are probably more festive, noisier; the Taizé meetings are more silent, more interior.”
“Without the brothers, we would never have met the Serbs”, says Maryan, a young Croatian whose parish welcomed 15 Serbs, the “enemies” of yesterday. “Our history is complicated”, replied discreetly the families to their guests who were rightly curious. “This does not mean forgetting a painful past”, recommended Brother Alois, “but the Gospel calls us to go beyond memory by forgiveness, to interrupt the chain that causes resentment to last.”
With his own personality and much simplicity, Brother Alois has taken over from Brother Roger. The same passion for reconciliation, for unity and peace sustains him. “God never stops looking for our friendship”, he said to the young people as a send off, confiding to them a copy of a Coptic icon of friendship. “And we live this friendship among ourselves as well. Christ unites us in one communion, that of the Church. Let us widen this friendship then, let us go beyond the separations that remain!” The pilgrimage of trust continues. The next stop along the way, in one year’s time: in Geneva.
Bernard Jouanno, in Zagreb (Croatia)
La Croix 1 January 2007
(1) 20,000 Croatians. Also: 8,000 Polish, 1,300 Romanians, 1,000 Ukrainians, 1,500 German speakers. French: 1,800, including three bishops: Mgr Benoît Rivière (Autun, President of the Council for children and youth ministry), Mgr Jean-Yves Riocreux (Pontoise) et Mgr Marc Stenger (Troyes).