Everything began in 1940 when, at the age of twenty-five, Brother Roger left Switzerland, the country where he was born, to go and live in France, the country his mother came from. For years he had been ill with tuberculosis, and during that long convalescence he had matured within him the call to create a community.
When the Second World War began, he had the conviction that without wasting time he should come to the assistance of people going through this ordeal, just as his grandmother had done during the First World War. The small village of Taizé, where he settled, was quite close to the demarcation line dividing France in two: it was well situated for sheltering refugees fleeing the war. Friends from Lyon started giving the address of Taizé to people in need of a place of safety.
In Taizé, thanks to a modest loan, Brother Roger bought a house with outlying buildings that had been uninhabited for years. He asked one of his sisters, Genevieve, to come and help him offer hospitality. Among the refugees they sheltered were Jews. Material resources were limited. There was no running water, so for drinking water they had to go to the village well. Food was simple, mainly soups made from corn flour bought cheaply at the nearby mill. Out of discretion towards those he was sheltering, Brother Roger prayed alone; he often went to sing far from the house, in the woods. So that none of the refugees, Jews or agnostics, would feel ill-at-ease, Genevieve explained to each person that it was better for those who wished to pray to do so alone in their rooms.
Brother Roger’s parents, knowing that their son and daughter were in danger, asked a retired French officer who was a friend of the family to watch over them. In the autumn of 1942, he warned them that their activities had been found out and that everyone should leave at once. So until the end of the war, it was in Geneva that Brother Roger lived and it was there that he began a common life with his first brothers. They were able to return to Taizé in 1944.
The first brothers’ commitment
In 1945, a young lawyer from the region set up an association to take charge of children who had lost their parents in the war. He suggested to the brothers that they welcome a certain number of them in Taizé. A men’s community could not receive children. So Brother Roger asked his sister Genevieve to come back to take care of them and become their mother. On Sundays, the brothers also welcomed German prisoners-of-war interned in a camp nearby Taizé.
Gradually other young men came to join the original group, and on Easter Day 1949, there were seven of them who committed themselves together for their whole life in celibacy and to a life together in great simplicity.
In the silence of a long retreat, during the winter of 1952-53, the founder of the community wrote the Rule of Taizé, expressing for his brothers “the essential that makes the common life possible”.