“The Prior of Taizé was filled with a desire for reconciliation that touched the depths of his soul and impelled him to create breaches.”
On 16 August 2005, when Brother Roger, at prayer with his brothers and with thousands of young adults, was struck by absurd violence, Taizé was struck at the heart of its vocation, in this church whose very name recalls that vocation: the Church of Reconciliation.
“In my youth,” writes Brother Roger, “I was astonished to see how Christians - who nevertheless live from a God of love – use so much energy to justify their separations. So I said to myself that it was essential to create a community where people search to understand one another and to be reconciled with one another always, and through this, to render visible a little parable of communion.” What followed is well known: attracted by the simplicity of the prayer and the life of the community, touched by the trust of the Brothers, tens of thousands of young adults come to Taizé every year, to ask their questions, to cry out their suffering, share their hopes, discover that Christ loves them, learn to live in the communion of the Church and to become makers of peace.
Thus the community and the young people seek to manifest the reconciliation to which Christ calls us, between Christians and with all our fellow human beings. The Brothers are not unaware of the laborious theological dialogues or of the meetings – official and often significant – between Church leaders, but they have first of all to propose the Good News to the young people and means for them to experience it.
Brother Roger was filled with a desire for reconciliation that touched the depths of his soul and impelled him to open up breaches. Setting out on a way that was both discreet and personal, he humbly shared this experience and this conviction. “I have found my identity as a Christian in reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, without a breakdown of communion with anyone.” Certain theologians knitted their brows at this; others said that Brother Roger was no theologian. Some Church leaders demanded an ecclesial identity that was official and, according to them, more precise.
Brother Roger loved all of the Body of Christ and he said so with all of his life. Without disowning his background, without confronting anyone, he wished to integrate and reconcile in himself all that the one Lord gives in Churches that are nevertheless still separated. Recognising the necessity of the ministry of universal communion of the Pope, he also adhered to the Eucharistic faith and practise of the Catholic Church and at the same time lived from the riches with which the Lord has gratified the Orthodox and Protestant Churches. Neither without tension nor without suffering, he lived the reconciliation of the Churches in all his being. Does it suffice for us to take note without judging and to say that what we have here is an exception, and to look for reasons to show that it can not be adapted?
Do we agree at least to let ourselves be questioned? Do we agree at least to wonder whether this “exception” is not called one day to become less exceptional, and to open up the way for many others? Listening to Brother Roger, we can remind ourselves that our separations are in conflict with the will of Christ, that ecumenism is an exchange of gifts, that we need one another, that reconciliation is not just peaceful coexistence, but trust, mutual enrichment and collaboration. Then perhaps we will know how to help our Churches to be less caught up than they are at present in drawing back into their own identities. I am speaking personally, because the Brothers of Taizé have never wished to give lessons to anyone and still less to be “spiritual masters”, even of ecumenism. When John Paul II visited them in 1986, he said to them that the vocation of their community is “in a certain sense, provisional”. In his fine book on Taizé, Professor Olivier Clément spoke of a “state of continual foundation”.
The brutal death of Brother Roger one year ago, at the heart of Taizé’s vocation, is part of this “dynamic of the provisional”. Through the voice of their new prior, the Brothers of Taizé are saying to us that they do not consider themselves to be the only actors of that dynamic. “We are poor men who need the communion of the Church in order to go forward in faith.” Brother Alois and his brothers continue to go forward on the way marked out by Brother Roger. They are already living something of the Church that is visibly one and they are leading young people to go to the sources of faith together.
Following an article published in Le Monde on 6 September 2006, Mgr Daucourt responds to the affirmation that Brother Roger had converted to Catholicism.
So Brother Roger became a convert to Catholicism? The popes and the bishops of Autun supposedly knew all about it and yet said nothing (Le Monde of September 6th, 2006). In its official documents, in the case of already baptized persons, the Catholic Church speaks not of conversion to Catholicism but rather to being admitted to full communion in the Catholic Church. This step can be undertaken in several ways, but all of them involve a written and signed document. No document of this kind exists in Brother Roger’s case. He and all his brothers recognized the Pope’s ministry of universal communion. He shared the Catholic faith concerning the ministry and in the Eucharist. He had a devotion to the Virgin Mary. But he wanted to live without breaking with anyone. That was the position he tried to maintain—not without inner tensions—in the hope of an imminent restoration of visible unity among all Christians. You may appreciate or dispute this position, but how can you imply that Brother Roger deceived people by concealing a conversion to Catholicism as this is generally understood?
So he received communion at the hands of John Paul II and of Cardinal Ratzinger? More than thirty years ago, he received it from Cardinal Wojtyla in Krakow and from the bishop of Autun. There is nothing unusual about this. The law of the Catholic Church confers upon every bishop the responsibility of admitting someone to the Eucharist, regularly or exceptionally, a newly baptized person or a baptized person from another Church. As a close friend of Taizé for the past forty years, someone who was in contact with Bishop Le Bourgeois regarding ecumenical questions from the beginning of his episcopacy and someone who, in the Pontifical Council for Unity, for seven years had the responsibility of following relations between the Vatican and Taizé, I was well placed to note that Bishop Le Bourgeois, Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, Cardinals Ratzinger and Kasper recognized an objective and public character in the communion of faith that Brother Roger lived with the Catholic Church. Respecting his spiritual journey, they did not ask anything more of him, while continuing contacts and a regular dialogue with him and his community.
How can one speak of an “enigma” (Le Monde of September 6th, 2006) and in addition claim to resolve it by relying on the evidence of Yves Chiron (cf. his letter of information Aletheia no. 95 of August 1, 2006), an historian who puts forward hypotheses? He is unable to interpret the information he received, being unfamiliar both with the personality of Brother Roger and with the history of Taizé and its relationship with the Churches. Bishop Séguy, for his part, speaks of “ambiguity”, because Brother Roger’s personal journey raises questions for him. During his time as bishop of Autun, he respected this journey, just as it was respected in Rome.
Brother Roger pointed out a way and opened doors for millions of people, young and old, so that ecumenism might be seen first and foremost as an exchange of gifts. Some may refuse to let themselves be questioned by his original position, so demanding and unsettling, or they may dispute it, but we are at least entitled to expect them to understand it correctly.
7 September 2006
Bishop of Nanterre
Member of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity