Cape Town 2019

Meditations by Brother Alois


Thursday 26 September

It is with deep joy that I address you, dear young people of South Africa and of many other countries. Each of us left our home or country to be present for this Cape Town pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a journey of prayer and of community. We open ourselves to God and to others.

As I speak to you, I would like to tell you right away: we did not come from Taizé to give you a message from somewhere else. It is you who represent the real message: it is embodied by your presence here, together in all our diversity. Yes, what an amazing diversity there is among us! You have come from all across South Africa, from many countries on the African continent, and some even from further away.

This meeting was made possible by an invitation from Churches in Cape Town and therefore I wish to thank those who invited us here: Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Most Reverend Stephen Brislin, the Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town, Methodist Bishop Siwa, President of the South African Council of Churches, and Reverend Doctor Gustav Claasen of the Dutch Reformed Church.

And through them I would also like to thank the bishops, pastors and priests of the churches of all denominations who have helped make this meeting possible. I would also like to greet Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has been a friend of our Community for many years, and Anglican Archbishop, John Sentamu of York, who has travelled from England to be with us, and also Bishop Stanley Dziuba, the Catholic Bishop in Southern Africa with responsibility for youth, who will participate in the whole meeting.

Here we are gathered on the soil of the beloved country of South Africa! And with us this afternoon are Christians from Cape Town who took the decision to open their doors to welcome us. Indeed, a thousand households have shown that trust which consists in opening the door to strangers from elsewhere or of a different origin.

In the current climate of society, this shared hospitality has even greater value, as so many families are welcoming visitors from another community, another Church, or another country. Let me quote the mother of a local family who said, a few weeks ago during a preparation meeting, “Yes, we are afraid of others, but we know that we must welcome them; there is no other way.”

A thousand homes open to welcome us - what a wonderful message! This is how our gathering is indeed a pilgrimage of trust. Together with all those who are welcoming us, we are planting a kind of seed of trust in this beloved land of South Africa.

We are all aware that the present situation is difficult. In most of our countries, divisions are getting worse. When we accepted the invitation to prepare this meeting, it was partly because we remembered that in your history, both during the terrible era of apartheid and in the time since, many of you have found the way to persevere in hope, in the face of all odds.

These days, in order to enter into this experience of fraternity, we need to be ready to welcome each other in mutual respect, with the openness to recognise our differences. Yes, in the image of God’s own self, let us receive others, not as we would like them to be, but as they are; may we consent to be welcomed by them in their way, and not ours.

Hospitality is an attitude of welcome towards others, but it also leads us, in the inmost depths of our being, to accept ourselves as we are. This is the beginning of the path to a healing which we all need. So let us welcome our frailties and vulnerability as well, as a door through which God enters to us.

The passage of the Gospel we heard this afternoon reminds us that happiness cannot be found in some kind of ideal life, or in the pursuit of possessions. On the contrary, the words of the Beatitudes call us to enter a space of joy, simplicity and mercy. By these words of Jesus, we come to realise that gentleness and humility are not signs of weakness. On the contrary, for Jesus, they are values that make us more human, and happier.

In one of the Beatitudes Jesus says to us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God!” These days, in this country of South Africa which is so deeply loved, but which is also suffering, let us allow this word of Christ to resonate in our hearts!

Friday 27 September

Yesterday evening we heard a beautiful passage from St. John’s Gospel which tells us of the sign of love that Jesus gave at the end of his life: the moment, during the last meal he shared with his friends, when he washed their feet. By this act, Jesus overturns the established order. He takes the place of a servant and honours his disciples.

This gesture shows how much Christ loved his disciples but, at the same time, it also constitutes a call. By giving them this example, Jesus encourages them to do the same, and to go all the way on the path of love. This is also what John says in his first letter: “If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is fulfilled in us.”

Is it not first of all a question of believing in love, of believing that love exists? For us to be able to love, we first need to let God’s love change and transform us. Yes, Christ has loved us to the point of putting himself at our service and taking our place. So, his treasure of love becomes mine, and I in turn can draw from this treasure the desire to love all those whom God entrusts to me.

How many people courageously commit to helping others! In the mornings, we are fortunate enough to meet witnesses of hope throughout the city who are improving everyday life around them very concretely. The afternoon workshops touch on numerous challenges of our time: sharing with the poor, education, entrepreneurship and care for the Creation, and many other themes.

Admittedly, in many countries of the world violence is causing devastation in the name of inhuman ideologies. Added to this, there are situations of extreme poverty, of broken relationships, an anxiety for the future, and the dangers of climate change. Shaken by this instability, many are discouraged by suffering and injustice.

It is precisely because the present challenges are so great that we want to have a greater confidence in the unexpected resourcefulness of our human family. And in particular, we want to pay attention to the creativity and vitality of so many young people today.

South Africans have embodied a decades-long struggle for freedom. Some paid with their lives or years of imprisonment for their commitment to the dignity of all. From you, dear friends of South Africa, we receive this good news: we will only be truly free if our hearts are free from hatred, fears, contempt and judgments.

Finding a true freedom makes us more capable of taking on responsibility. Trusting in God doesn’t mean that we have ready-made answers, but it does allow us not to be paralysed by fear or discouragement.

Such hope is not an cheap optimism that turns a blind eye to reality, but it is like an anchor cast into God. It commits us, it sets our direction. And then we grasp that the Gospel opens a horizon of hope.

At the end of the common prayer there will be the opportunity to pray in the way we do every Friday in Taizé: a prayer around the cross. All who wish can come close to the cross, placing their foreheads on the wood and, by this sign, give up to Christ their burdens and those of others.

This prayer around the cross lets us carry in our prayer those who are going through a trial in their lives: those who are suffering in their soul or body, the sick, the victims of injustice of all kinds, those who have had to leave their country, or those who experience loneliness.

Without losing our clear-sightedness, but resisting fear, we can remember that Christ stretched out his arms on the cross to receive every human being. As followers of Christ, do not all Christians have the vocation to work for the community of all people, across barriers of every kind? It is such fraternity, a restored trust between human beings which is the only path leading to peace.

Saturday 28 September

Today, I would like to begin by sharing a personal memory. In November 1978, a few of us came from Nairobi with Brother Roger, the founder of our Taizé Community, to spend a few days in South Africa – in Johannesburg and Cape Town. It was my first visit to South Africa. In Cape Town a prayer service was held in Crossroads. A large number of people gathered spontaneously.

We were welcomed by several pastors and the local council leader. At the end of the service, Brother Roger knelt down, asking each person to trace a sign of the cross in the palm of his hand, as a gesture of forgiveness.

It is true that, in some situations, forgiveness seems impossible, so great is the injustice and suffering. Let us remember that forgiveness sometimes happens in successive stages. Even just the desire to not allow ourselves to respond with violence to violence received, is a step which puts us on the path of forgiveness. Only God can forgive everything and at the same time give justice to all the oppressed.

Jesus planted this seed of God’s forgiveness in humanity. During his life and even on the cross, Christ forgave, and refused to condemn anyone. The Church, which gathers all those who love Christ, is called to let herself be transformed by mercy. It is in the Church that we find forgiveness for ourselves, inner peace and an encouragement to forgive those who have wronged us.

How can we announce this good news in the world today if we Christians remain divided? A more visible communion among Christians is an essential catalyst for unity and peace in the whole human family. Will we do all we can to gather under one roof more frequently, and to deepen the relationships we have with each other?

The message of God’s forgiveness cannot be used to condone evil or injustice. On the contrary, it frees us so that we can see our own faults, as well as the faults and injustices around us and in the world. It is up to us to put right what can be put right.

The wounds of history can scar the consciousness and mentalities of people for generations. But the humiliations which were endured do not always have to lead to violence. Healing can come, not through the victory of one group over another, but when people’s hearts make room for the dignity of others to be respected.

The recent history of South Africa gives us an example. Although there is still a long road to travel in the direction of a greater justice, Nelson Mandela and others, by offering forgiveness, made possible the healing of many wounds even though these had been indeed terrible.

At a youth meeting we held in Johannesburg in 1995, Madiba sent us this message: “I encourage the younger generation, which has an important role to play in building a new South Africa, to accept responsibility and not to give in to impatience and despair. In this way, this generation can be a source of hope for many young people around the world, who are looking for ways to build trust in the human family. By supporting and serving one another, we can move forward together, finding strength and joy in the solidarity that unites us.”

This message is very relevant today. Even in outbreaks of violence, we can bear witness to the fact that love is stronger than hate. My brothers, some of whom have been here in Cape Town for two years, told me that a few weeks ago, by the side of a highway with a flow of passing vehicles, a couple of dozen women and children were holding banners and signs saying “stop violence”.

The action can seem insignificant in the face of one of the country’s most serious social problems. But this story touched me. Who will hear the cry of these mothers who have to face this violence?

Tomorrow we shall return to our daily lives. We will be saying goodbye to the people who have welcomed us here with such generosity. Let us already express to them the thankfulness of our hearts!

I would like us all to be able, at the end of our meeting, to ask ourselves, in our prayer and in exchanges with others: what steps can I take, at my level, to build a society where fraternal love and reconciliation are realities? Of course, we cannot pretend to have solutions to problems that are beyond our control. But a question like this will keep us alert, and ready to be peacemakers in our daily life.

Let us continue this pilgrimage of trust in lives at home, and not forget the encouragement we have received these days. It is the encouragement of Jesus himself, who says to each of us, “Do not be afraid, I am here, I am with you always until the end of the world.”

Last updated: 4 October 2019