Taizé’s “Europe of solidarity” in Brussels
Le Monde: 30 December 2008
The Atomium glistens in the freezing night air. Right next door, thousands of young adults have responded to the Taizé Community’s invitation for an evening prayer in a huge heated hall in the Brussels exhibition centre. The Taizé brothers’ thirty-first international meeting, held every year between Christmas and New Year, began on Monday 29 December and will last till 2 January. Following Geneva last year, and before that Zagreb and Milan, this is a first for the Belgian capital, whose European vocation gives this gathering a special impact.
The participants from Eastern Europe are out in force. Of the 40,000 people expected, 10,000 are Polish, with 2000 French. Nearly all the participants are housed in families in the region, often two or three at a time. Hesitant at first, the parishes – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – were mobilized week by week. Some Muslim families also took part. “It is a wonderful way of meeting other believers, other nationalities, without making a tour of Europe”, remarks Christina, a young Hungarian who arrived from Budapest after spending a night in a bus. Before the prayer, she spent part of her evening distributing packed meals in a hangar where you sit on the floor for supper.
…Two European commissioners, Jacques Barrot from France and Jan Figel from Slovakia, will take part in the discussions. These meetings are “a good way of approaching a project that is often little known,” observes Jean-Baptiste, a student from Brittany. Globalization, financial crisis, culture… different workshops, one of which takes place in the European Economic and Social Committee, are planned around the theme of trust so dear to the Taizé brothers…
For Father Henri Madelin, of the Jesuit European Service, the choice of Brussels is a happy coincidence, just a few months before the European elections in June: “This neighbourhood of Brussels is at the heart of a great utopia of solidarity, which rings out not only in Europe, but in the rest of the world,” he says. “Young people are those farthest away from the European project, these meetings can bring them closer to it.”
Taizé: 40 000 young people gathered against the gloom
Le Figaro: 29 December 2008
Supported by the Pope, the "pilgrimage of confidence" organized this year in Brussels by the ecumenical community calls on believers to "go beyond the compartmentalization of our societies."
In the midst of worldwide doubt, Taizé dares to speak of trust. And brings together 40,000 young people from Monday morning to Friday January 2, in Brussels for the 31st "pilgrimage of trust" that Brother Roger, founder of this ecumenical Christian community, assassinated in 2005, launched in the form of an international gathering at the end of each year in a European capital.
...In the spirit of its organizers, the annual gathering defined by European geography wishes to be global. It was preceded in November by a meeting in Kenya, with 7,000 young people from fifteen African countries present. An opportunity for Brother Alois, the successor of Brother Roger, to write the traditional "letter from Taizé”, this year a "letter from Kenya".
This long meditation by Brother Alois will punctuate the meeting in Brussels. Young people will be invited to reflect on a central question: "From what source do we draw life? (...) Could there be a link between the disappearance of faith and the loss of a zest for life? How can we clear away whatever it is that obstructs the source?” Four steps are proposed: "taking responsibility for our lives; being led to go beyond ourselves; helping one another to deepen our faith; going beyond the compartmentalization of our societies."
In a message that participants will find on their arrival, Brother Alois seeks to encourage young people: "Everyone can take part in a civilization marked not by mistrust but by trust. At times, in the course of history, just a few people were enough to tip the scales towards peace. Dare to be creative even with what is not perfect"...
A boon for the parishes, too
La Libre Belgique: 2 January 2009
Parishes and other communities outside Brussels are taking part fully in the meeting. An early Taizé morning in French-speaking Brabant.
No doubt about it, the parish of Saints Mary and Joseph in Ottignies is taking part in the Taizé meeting... A "WB 19" flanked by the characteristic cross which symbolizes the ecumenical community in Burgundy posted on the door of the church attests to this. And for those who might still have doubts, the familiar refrains of the prayer in the Church of Reconciliation break the silence of the early winter morning of the last day of 2008. As in nearly 180 other parishes in and around Brussels, people are doing all they can to offer a warm welcome in Blocry, one of the main parishes of Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, which is also one of the most welcoming cities, since here hospitality is offered to hundreds of young people.
At the center of the church, transformed with class by John Cosse, there are large orange fabrics around the well-known cross-icon of Taizé, and a star reminding us that it is still Christmastime. During the first Christmas in history, Mary and Joseph did not find a place at the inn, but the community of Blocry has worked hard to accommodate under optimal conditions the young people who were sent there. 105 were expected, and in the end 88 came.
A Europe in miniature. From east to west: although Poland (35) and Slovenia (25) were the most strongly represented, there were nonetheless 10 Portuguese next to young people from Bosnia, Croatia and even Britain... But in this early winter morning, well-known faces from the parish could be seen, from more or less all age groups, with as a bonus the musical animators of the youth Mass. In fact, Taizé in Brussels does not only mean welcoming young people from across the world; it is also a practical challenge for the Christians of Belgium...
The Brussels meeting gives young people a sense of commitment
La Croix: 2 January 2009
The Brussels edition of Taizé’s annual European meeting enabled the young participants to discover the joy of taking responsibility.
There were still 40,000 of them Thursday evening at the prayer, before the departure of the coaches this afternoon. A last prayer together in the Heysel exhibition center, the heart of the European youth gathering organized by Taizé since Monday in Brussels. Seen from the outside, an unlikely place for meditation, in front of the Atomium, amidst memories of Expo 58. But, once inside, with young people carrying signs saying “Silence”, with countless candles sparkling, with some icons and songs tirelessly repeated, Taizé was able to recreate that special orange atmosphere in which its ecumenical liturgy is rooted. You sit on the floor of the vast halls here just as you do there, in the village in Burgundy which the community founded by Frère Roger calls home. Young children surround his energetic successor, Brother Alois, who spoke to the participants every night.
...The young people’s commitment begins with Taizé, in the organization of the meeting itself, which is based on the participation of each individual. “That’s what I like,” says Zane, 27 years old, from Latvia. “You come for the prayer and everything is not ready. I was responsible for lighting the candles!” “I felt the spirit of Taizé more this year because I was more involved in the preparation," adds her friend Liga. She and her husband Kaspars took a guided tour of the European quarter the day before yesterday. But for those Latvians, in the end it did not matter that the meeting was held in Brussels: “The most rewarding thing is to live with a family, to take part in the evening prayer and to have some work to do,” says Zane, enjoying the sight of some Spaniards singing while they clean.
...At the Heysel, the silence was widely respected during the minutes – plural! – devoted to it in the prayer. Bent over, eyes closed, head down. Bishop Jozef de Kesel, Auxiliary Bishop of Malines-Brussels, came for midday and evening prayers, left with more drive for his diocese: “It gives me lots of ideas,” he said. The Taizé brothers will stay until January 20, making the rounds of the 180 parishes mobilized, to listen to what the meeting has produced in the Church of Belgium.
“It is a fortunate coincidence that this meeting occurred at a time when our country is undergoing a deep crisis,” states political analyst Pierre Vercauteren. “It shows a lot of Belgians that it is possible to restore trust. For the Church of Belgium, it’s a breath of fresh air.” Everyone saw how “happy and deeply moved” Cardinal Godfried Danneels, archbishop of Malines-Brussels, was; he had wanted the meeting to be held in Brussels since the 1980s.
Laurence Flachon: “A dynamic of friendship”
La Libre Belgique: 2 January 2009
The pastor of the Evangelical Church of the Museum in Brussels gives another view of Taizé’s European meeting.
Taizé’s European meeting in Brussels provided an opportunity to turn to other religious partners of the initiative. The Protestant parish of the Royal Chapel Royal lives fully the age of ecumenism, notably with its Catholic neighbor Saint-Jacques on Coudenberg.
How has the Protestant Church, and still more a parish like your, experienced this event?
The United Protestant Church of Belgium has mobilized its resources for the past few months to take part in the welcome of the Taizé young people. The interest and enthusiasm of Protestants for the Taizé Community is real, even if sometimes they would wish for the ecumenical dimension to be emphasized more. I am personally sensitive to this liturgy which allows you to listen attentively to the Bible texts while also leaving room for silence. In my parish, this project got people motivated. The families opened their homes and in the end we had more places than we announced! From the beginning we had proposed to members of the community to get involved either by becoming a host family, or else by participating in activities organized in the parish and the Expo (one not excluding the other, of course) . And that worked very well: young people were able to see community members participate in morning prayers and, on the evening of the 31st, not only were the majority of the host families present but other parishioners too joined the celebration. I think we were all impressed by the dynamism, motivation and courtesy of these young people. We had the privilege of being hosts who received a lot from their guests!
...How can the fruits of such an ecumenical meeting be extended in the everyday situation of Brussels and elsewhere?
We must continue to meet and work together! Stop thinking that we are alone when confronted with the joys and challenges facing Christian churches today. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What are the beliefs that make us live and what attitudes do they imply? What can we say together as Christians about the great ethical, socio-economic or existential challenges of our time? We can reflect on all these questions in meetings between parishes, in theological dialogue, in the organization of joint activities... I think that Taizé creates a real “dynamic of friendship” (I think of the icon present during the gatherings) by the human and spiritual encounters that these gatherings make possible. It is up to each of us to find ways “of expanding the area of their tent”, to use a biblical image, in order to keep it alive...