I landed in Los Angeles from where several invitations had been sent to Taizé. The Bishop of the Episcopal diocese told me that he had been to Taizé more than twenty times ! In many churches of many different denominations the songs of Taizé are used for monthly or weekly prayers. This is is this case at "All Saints", Pasadena.
Several young adults from this parish took part in the gathering we had in Chicago last year and have since then become more actively involved in preparing this regular prayer. One of the participants told me: "I have been successful with my career, but there was a feeling of emptiness that nothing could fill. The prayer has brought joy to my life." In addition to visiting parishes of many denominations, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, there were also many conversations with students and professors from various universities in California. At Occidental College, where President Obama was a student, I met with a group of twenty students over lunch hour. We watched a short video on Taizé and then those who wished asked questions or spoke about what struck them in the video. One young woman said: "I never go to church. I came here because of a friend who has been to Taizé and who invited me. I’m so glad I did.". At Claremont, several theology students gathered to find out more about prayer in Taizé, the songs, silence and more generally about our day to day life and vocation. I had the surprise of discovering among the professors a former volunteer. There was also a pastor that I had accompanied in a week of silence at Taizé some twenty years ago. His parish is in one of the poorest areas of the United States. He has since written to me, asking that we visit his town next year.
Azusa Pacific is a well known Evangelical Christian university. One of the professors got to know a Catholic Benedictine community. He was surprised among other things to see how Scripture-centered is the life of a monk. He invited me to speak to his class on twentieth century Christianity. Another class joined us. They were studying family life and were being taught by his wife. We had a wonderful time of sharing together.
While I was in Los Angeles a large Catholic Religious Education Congress was taking place with nearly forty thousand participants. One evening of the Congress was devoted to prayer with Taizé songs.
At Berkeley, near San Francisco, there is a regular prayer with the songs at the Newman Center. At the same university, for students and professors of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific who meet every Thursday for the Eucharist and a meal, I was asked to speak about Taizé.
While walking in downtown San Francisco, I came across a sign announcing a prayer with Taizé songs for that same evening in a large Catholic church, but I was unfortunately not available to attend. The campus of Santa Clara university located about 40 miles south of San Francisco is certainly one of the most beautiful in the world. The Chaplaincy team invited me to offer a "visio-divina". This involved commenting two images (I chose two icons) for students during lunch hour. A student intern very aptly led the time of sharing that followed. Everyone was invited to speak about what they had discovered after spending time contemplating the icons in silence.
At Burlingame, just a few minutes away from San Francisco, the Sisters of Mercy have been leading a prayer with Taizé songs for over thirty years. Their large chapel can hold several hundred people. The lighting was very muted with just a few candles flickering in front of three or four icons. The singing was beautiful. Sister Suzanne is an internationally known composer. Directing countless choirs during her long life has taken its toll on her body. She can barely raise her left arm. Towards the end of the prayer that we had on March 1st in a full chapel, she accompanied the songs by playing her piano with just one hand, the lamp above the piano shedding a pale light on her almost transparent face.
I flew from San Francisco to Toronto and that same evening caught a bus to London, Ontario. King’s College, which is part of the University of Western Ontario, had invited me to meet with students and to lead a prayer the following evening. Janet teaches music at this university and she is also part of the chaplaincy team. Every week a prayer with Taizé songs takes place in the college chapel. Janet truly has a gift to direct Taizé music. The college chapel was too small for evening prayer and even the larger room that had been reserved could hardly hold all those who gathered. I left at dawn the next morning and travelled by train to Kitchener, a Canadian city that was called Berlin before the first world war. I spent the day and the evening at the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. Once again, I was impressed by the quality of the musicians who use the songs of Taizé every week. A hundred people are part of the choir! A morning session on Taizé was organized for students and professors. Later in the day, a second session focused on the Taizé songs and common prayer. We ended the day together with an evening of prayer.
In Montreal, the parish of Our Lady of the Snows welcomed us for a prayer on the evening of March 9th. The parish priest of this large and beautiful parish was Episcopal Vicar back in 2007 when we had our three day gathering in Montreal. He gave us the same warm welcome he had extended to us in 2007. Several hundred people of all ages filled the church. The Archbishop of Montreal took part in the entire evening. Once again the quality of the singing was remarkable.
The last stop on my journey was in Ottawa. In Sacred Heart Church, just next to the campus of the University of Ottawa, a prayer with Taizé songs is celebrated every month of the university year. The Sisters of Saint Marie of Namur started the prayer over 30 years ago and always prepare it with great love and care. Several hundred people came for the prayer that was held on Thursday March 14th: young and old, French speakers and English speakers, Canadians with African and South American backgrounds ... a wonderful diversity.
Several people from Canada, among them Native Canadians, are preparing to take part in the gathering on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota from 24th to 27th May 2013.
One of the brothers spent three weeks in Canada and a few days in Chicago. Here he writes about his stay:
My journey took me to seven towns of the North American continent and to as many universities. I was struck by the dynamism of certain pastoral teams. Sacred Heart parish, which is the university parish for the University of Ottawa, has a new priest. We talked for a long time whilst making the journey between Ottawa and Quebec together. An Oblate, he reflected a lot on mission today and he was convinced that it is the whole parish that must be missionary. Several projects are taking shape which head in this direction. There was much freshness in his words. It was in his parish that we held a beautiful prayer with several hundred people on March 17th. Sisters of Sainte-Marie-de Namur have been responsible for animating this prayer, for the past thirty years or so, and many young people have learned there how to sing in four parts.
At Redeemer University College, a university at Hamilton, in Ontario, which has its roots in the reformed tradition, the welcome was very warm. Students from this university came to Taizé last year. We had a prayer with them, together with some lecturers and other members of the university personnel; then a beautiful discussion with the lecturers during the lunch break.
At Toronto, for the third consecutive year, it was the Holy Rosary church that welcomed us for a prayer which lasted late into the evening of March 11th. It was the catholic youth service of the Archdiocese of Toronto that had the idea of this meeting. Aware of the immense challenge faced by the youth service, those in charge are seeking to start initiatives that speak to young people and lead them to deepen their faith.
In Quebec, at the Laval University, and at the Western University in London, in addition to the prayer on Friday evening, Saturday was devoted to a reflection on the call in the Letter from Chile to take “an option for joy”. There also, we thought a lot about the youth services of both the diocese and university. No-one had a magic solution, but we were far from giving up. Several young people from Quebec will pass through Taizé during the summer, on their way to Madrid.
At Montreal, the Saint Joseph Oratory welcomed us for a prayer which brought together more than 600 people. Many of those who had supported the meeting held in Montreal in 2007 were there, happy to meet up again. We had arranged to meet up at 6pm with those who would like to come for a sharing before the prayer. We thought that only a few dozen people would come but, in fact, we had to squeeze into the place where the DVD was being shown and where I then spoke about the meeting in Rotterdam and the forthcoming meeting being prepared in Kigali. A large group of Vietnamese teenagers took part in this prayer as preparation for their confirmation. I thought that the prayer would end at 10pm, but the songs continued for a long time after that, as if no-one wanted to leave the great peace which we were breathing together that evening.
Two days earlier, another beautiful prayer took place at the Anglican Cathedral in Montreal.
The fact of spending several days in Montreal allowed me to have extended meetings with several young adults. Several were undertaking advanced study: one was doing a doctorate in history, another in philosophy, another in science; all had kept a humble heart, listening, asking themselves how to serve, how to take their place. Another beautiful meeting with a young actress, who is now a novice in a religious community in Montreal. No doubt these young people are unaware how important is their witness.
The invitation to Chicago came from the DePaul University, the largest catholic university in the United States. The chaplain has been coming to Taizé for seventeen years. Last year several members of his team accompanied him to Taizé and others are preparing to come next July. The university chapel and the chaplaincy premises are magnificently situated at the entrance to the “Student Building”. The chapel walls are glass, which insulates the chapel from surrounding noise, whilst still allowing students passing by to see that the chapel is a place of prayer for young people. At midday on Tuesdays they celebrate a Mass there with the songs of Taizé and on Tuesday evenings, at 9.30pm, a prayer with the same songs brings many young people together. The Tuesday that I was there, we had to squeeze up a lot to fit into the chapel. The following day just as many young people came together in the lovely chapel of the Jesuit Loyola University. This happens every Wednesday evening. The songs were wonderfully sung.
In Chicago and the surrounding region, churches of all denominations organise evenings with the songs of Taizé. A female pastor of the Presbyterian Church told me: “We don’t get crowds coming, but I know that for many who take part this is their only contact with the faith. It is important that there be suggestions for those who have a contemplative expectation.” “The thirst is there amongst the young,” she told me. “Often they must manage on their own. They belong to a generation where the transmission of the faith has been interrupted. It is up to us to make suggestions.”
Like every year, in February-March 2010 one of the brothers of the community travelled in Canada. He began his program in Saskatchewan where, invited by the Anglican Diocese of Qu’appelle, from 8 to 11 February, he led a retreat for the clergy of the diocese.
Friends in Ottawa – so faithful for so many years – welcomed him for a prayer at Sacred Heart Church. In Montreal, Orthodox friends had asked the community for a long time to lead a prayer in one of their churches.
“Everywhere I went the welcome was very good. The people in Montreal were surprised to see the church filled to overflowing. There were people standing at the back. The prayer around the Cross lasted for a long time. The Orthodox bishop of the Church of Antioch was present and spoke at the beginning. He too is seeking how to help the young people to discover Christ.”
Another invitation, from the Student Chaplaincy at King’s University College at London, Ontario, was an opportunity for prayer and to meet friends in that region.
Finally, on 5 March, at the invitation of the Catholic youth ministry of the Archdiocese of Toronto, the brother led an evening of prayer at Holy Rosary Church.
Several meetings in March 2009
In March 2009, many young adults took part in the meetings in Montreal, Ottawa, London and Toronto.
At Saint Joseph’s Oratory, even the most optimistic forecasts were well off the mark, to such an extent that the songs sheets prepared for the occasion were quite insufficient... so that spontaneously the young people shared them out between them. Before the prayer began, those present watched a DVD on the recent meeting in Nairobi, which was also shown during the meeting in Ottawa. Many people were very touched by this film: « If the young people in such difficult situations can speak about trust, hope and reconciliation, what does that mean for us? » One group from Montreal, organised by the youth ministry of the diocese, hope to come to Taizé during the summer, with an auxiliary bishop of Montreal who also took part in the prayer that evening.
In Ottawa, it was once again the University of Saint Paul that hosted the meeting. Several halls and the fine chapel of the university were made availaable. The young people travelled long distances to get to the meeting. Four of them had travelled several hours by plane from Colorado. Others came from Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec. Many were able to identify with the challenges in the « Letter from Kenya ». The Archbishop of Ottawa came to take part in the prayer on the Friday evening. A group from Ottawa will be in Taizé this summer.
In London and in Toronto, beautiful evenings of prayer brought together several hundred young people each time. Holy Rosary Parish in Toronto was filled with young people who had come from all over the region and from the most varied ethnic communities: Chinese, Philippino, Vietnamese, Polish, Lebanese, French speakers and English speakers.
Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa: 2008
From 1 to 3 February, one of the brothers led a weekend of prayer and meeting in Toronto, Canada. The prayers took place in Saint Paul’s Basilica. Other activities took place at the United Church and the Anglican Cathedral. One of the participants writes, “We had a huge snow storm on Friday, the day everybody was supposed to arrive. We had as many registrations from outside Toronto (especially Quebec) as from the city itself, and we were worried for people’s safety... and that they might not come! However, with the exception of half a dozen coming from Ottawa, everybody came. It is incredible: there was even a group from Amos, in the North of Quebec. They did 14 hours by car to get here, and among them some were very poor. 13 came from Quebec City. As usual, there were Bible introductions. The sharing groups were good and the prayers were beautiful. It seems that they really touched the young people.”
A week later, 200 young adults of different denominations met for prayer at Saint Albert Church, in Montreal. During the prayer, a Taizé brother gave a meditation on the sentence from Brother Alois’s letter, “To those who want to follow Christ”, “Happy are those who do not abandon themselves to fear, but to the presence of the Holy Spirit.” The following Thursday a similar meeting took place in Ottawa, where a prayer with songs from Taizé has continued for 30 years. The Catholic Archbishop and the Anglican Bishop of Ottawa took part in the evening which brought together 300 young adults.
Montreal: 27 to 29 April 2007
“When you told us it would be wise to remove the benches from the church, to have more places for the young people, we thought you did not know what things are really like in our country,” said a brother of one of the Montreal religious communities, “Not many young people go to church here”. “A few months later, when the meeting started, we were very astonished to see the large church of Saint Alphonse filled with young people, nearly two thousand, for the prayer of Saturday evening!”
How can we understand the fact that so many young people wanted to take part in this meeting? On the first day of the young adult meeting in Montreal, one of the big national dailies of Toronto carried an article with the title: “The thirst for silence attracts young adults”. (Toronto Star, 27 April 2007). The journalist endeavoured to understand what motivated 150 Toronto young people from different denominations to come to Montreal. A few days earlier, in the “Newspaper of Montreal”, Cardinal Turcotte, archbishop of Montreal, entitled his weekly chronicle “Taizé - Montreal” and recalled the beginnings and the meaning of the gathering: “Many young people who have been to Taizé from here or who have taken part in community prayers with the songs of Taizé are asking, ‘Couldn’t Montreal be a stage of the pilgrimage of trust on earth?’ A meeting of this kind would bring together young adults from Quebec, from several regions of Canada, and even from the United States.
I expressed to Brother Alois, Brother Roger’s successor, our desire to host such an event in Montreal. The Anglican Bishop of Montreal, Dr. Barry Clarke, and the Montreal and Ottawa Synod of the United Church of Canada did the same. The meeting has now been in preparation for several months. Under the heading ‘Leaving Discouragement Behind, Finding New Hope’, the meeting will be led by the Taizé Community. At this time, when so many young people are profoundly discontented and do not know what their future will be, this weekend responds well to the questions they carry within them.”
Nearly all the provinces of Canada were represented as well as about fifteen states of the USA. A religious sister from the north of Quebec writes: “There were four young people from Rouyn-Noranda, a young person from Val d’Or (adult education) and two Amerindians. The return trip made it possible to create very solid bonds between them.”
The people from Montreal who registered to take part were particularly numerous. One of them writes: “It was a great joy for me to take part in this meeting. There is a single, flexible and open style that is at the same time solid and inspiring: a necessary breath of air in our present church context.”
“Leaving Discouragement Behind, Finding New Hope” Following Bible introductions given by Taizé brothers in French and English, the young people had two opportunities to exchange on this topic. A school close by Saint Alphonse Church provided accommodation for these exchanges and for the meals and the workshops at the end of the afternoons. Many appreciated the diversity of the topics offered in the workshops: “Being a Christian in an academic world: an anti-conformist choice” “Saint Paul, or the man of ceaselessly renewed dynamism” “`What you did to the smallest of these’: Initiatives of solidarity” “Can my work have a meaning?” “A yes to Christ for the whole of our life” “Praying with the songs of Taizé” “Daring to go towards others?” “The momentum towards reality that comes to us from Christ” “Towards the real via the virtual: Internet and the life of faith” “`I will love you’; Project and promise: ways of sustaining a momentum: couples, young and less young, speak about their commitment”.
One of the animators of the workshop on the topic “Being a Christian in an academic world” writes: “I was happy that some of the young people come back to ask questions about philosophy and faith, and about some great figures like Paul Ricœur or Charles Taylor. Among other things, they were marked by what I had said to them about Paul Ricœur, giving an important philosophy lecture on the ethics of responsibility, in Paris, and out walking with Brother Roger the following day in Taizé. What they are looking for above all are living witnesses, not theories and doctrines.”
Another participant wrote to one of the brothers: “You knew how to put questions and how to create the sharing of treasures that do not rust. It is by keeping all these things in our hearts and calling them back to mind that we can ‘leave discouragement behind and find new hope’. For some, this event will have been a first ‘experience of God’. For others, the meeting will have been the occasion of strengthening them in the faith, and even of a source of boldness. It is today that young adults are called to live this Christian reality that mysteriously makes us pass from discouragement to boldness: Pentecost.”