Brother Alois

2007 Letter from Kolkata

Thirty years ago, Brother Roger spent some time in Kolkata (Calcutta) with brothers and young people from different continents, living in a poor district and taking part in Mother Teresa’s work with abandoned children and the dying. He brought back the Letter to the People of God, made public during a young adult meeting at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Later on, he wrote several messages and three books with Mother Teresa.
This presence in 1976 was the seed of a lasting relationship of our community with the Christians of India. Visits throughout the country, two intercontinental meetings in Madras and the constant arrival of young Indians to Taizé have represented different facets of this relationship. And Kolkata continued to signify for us both human distress and the faces of people giving their lives for the very poorest and thus becoming beacons of light.
So I thought it was important to return to Kolkata and to prepare a meeting there. It brought together 6000 young people, most of them Asians, from October 5-9, 2006. The meeting was an attempt to give a new dimension to the “pilgrimage of trust”—journeying alongside young people from Asia on their own continent, listening to them and supporting their hope. The Letter from Kolkata was written after this gathering, to be made public at the European meeting in Zagreb.

As we continue the “pilgrimage of trust on earth” that brings together young people from many countries, we understand more and more deeply this reality: all humanity forms a single family and God lives within every human being without exception.

In India, as in other parts of Asia, we have discovered how much the quite natural attention paid to the presence of God in the whole of creation implies respect for the other person and what is sacred for him or her. Today, in modern societies, it is so important to reawaken that attentiveness to God and that respect for human beings.

Every human being is sacred for God. Christ opened his arms on the cross to gather together all humanity in God. If he sends us to the ends of the earth to communicate God’s love, this takes place above all through a dialogue of life. God never places us on the level of a power struggle with those who do not know him.

So many young people across the world are ready to make the unity of the human family more visible. They let themselves be challenged by a question: how can we resist all forms of violence and discrimination; how can we go beyond walls of hatred or indifference? These walls exist between peoples and continents, but they are also close to each of us, and are even found within the human heart. It is up to us, then, to make a choice: to choose to love, to choose hope.

The huge problems of our societies can foster defeatism. By choosing to love, we discover a space of freedom to create a future for ourselves and for those entrusted to us.

With a minimum of resources, God makes us creators with him, even where circumstances are not favorable. Going towards others, sometimes with empty hands, listening, trying to understand… and already a deadlocked situation can be transformed.

God awaits us in those who are poorer than we are. “What you have done to one of these, the least, you have done to me.” [I]

In the North as in the South, great inequalities keep alive a fear of the future. Some people courageously devote their energies to changing structures of injustice.

We all need to ask ourselves about our lifestyle. We need to simplify our lives. And then we will become more able to go towards others with open hearts.

Today there are a host of initiatives for sharing available to everyone. Inventive and fairer forms of trade, or micro-credit, have demonstrated that economic growth and solidarity with the poorest can go hand in hand. Some people make sure that part of their income contributes to the establishment of greater justice.

Giving our time is precious if our societies are to acquire a more human appearance. Everyone can try to listen to and support even just one other person: a neglected child, a young person with no work or hope, someone who is deprived, an elderly person.

Choosing to love, choosing hope. As we walk along this road with perseverance, we are surprised to discover that, before we have done anything, God has chosen each one of us: “Do not be afraid; I have called you by name; you belong to me. I am your God, you are precious in my sight and I love you”. [II]

In prayer, we place ourselves and those entrusted to us before the benevolent eyes of God. God welcomes us as we are, with what is good, but also with our inner contradictions and even our faults.

The Gospel assures us that our weaknesses can become a doorway through which the Holy Spirit enters our life.

Thirty years ago, Brother Roger wrote in Calcutta: “Prayer is a source of loving for you. In total selflessness, abandon yourself, body and spirit. Every day go deeply into a few lines of the Scriptures, to be brought face to face with Another, with the Risen Lord. In silence, let a living word of Christ be born in you, then put it into practice right away.”

As he was leaving Calcutta, he added:

“Now we are leaving after having discovered, in the very heart of deep distress, a people’s astonishing vitality, and having encountered witnesses to a different future for all. As a contribution to this future, the People of God has one possibility all its own: spread across the entire world, it can build up a parable of sharing in the human family. Such a parable will have force enough to propagate itself, shaking even the most immovable structures and creating communion in the human family.” [III]

This appeal of Brother Roger’s is more relevant than ever today. Scattered across the world, Christians can sustain hope for all by rooting their lives in this amazing news: after the resurrection of Christ, our humanity is no longer fragmented.

How can we be witnesses to a God of love on earth if we allow our separations between Christians to continue? Let us dare to advance towards visible unity! When we turn to Christ together, when we come together to pray, the Holy Spirit is already uniting us. Humbly, in prayer, we learn constantly to belong to one another. Will we have the courage no longer to act without taking others into account?

The closer we come to Christ and to his Gospel, the closer we come to one another.

An exchange of gifts comes about through reciprocal hospitality. All these gifts are necessary today to make the voice of the Gospel audible. Those who have placed their trust in Christ are called to offer their unity to all. And praise of God can burst forth.

And then that beautiful Gospel parable comes to life: the tiny mustard-seed becomes the largest of the garden plants, so that the birds of the air come to build their nests in it. [IV] Rooted in Christ, we discover a capacity to be open to all, even to those who cannot believe in him or who are indifferent. Christ became the servant of all; he does not humiliate anybody.

More than ever, today we have possibilities to live in communion beyond national borders. God gives us his breath, his Spirit. And we pray, “Guide our steps along the way of peace.” [V]

1 At the beginning of his ministry, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “All people belong to one and the same family.” (Message for World Day of Peace, 2006)
In Kolkata, Christians are a minority among the other great historical religions. In India, tensions between religions have sometimes led to serious violence. And yet, mutual respect represents the essence of the relationship between religions. The feasts of each tradition are respected by the others and can even become an occasion for sharing.

2 A young man from Lebanon, the father of a family, wrote to us while the bombings in the Middle East were intensifying on both sides, “Peace of heart is possible! When you have been humiliated, the temptation is to want to humiliate in return. In spite of the suffering, in spite of the hatred which is growing stronger and stronger, in spite of the desire for vengeance that wells up in us during moments of weakness, I believe in that peace. Yes, peace here and now!”

3 Some Taizé brothers have been living for thirty years in Bangladesh, with people who are almost all Muslims. They share the daily life of the poorest and most abandoned. One of them wrote, “We are discovering more and more that those who are rejected by society because of their weakness and their apparent uselessness are a presence of God. If we welcome them, they lead us progressively to leave behind a world of hypercompetition and to head towards a world of communion of hearts. In the great diversity of religions and cultures, our presence in Bangladesh wishes to be the sign that the service of our vulnerable brothers and sisters opens a road of peace and unity.”
What Mother Teresa began in Kolkata continues to shine forth through her sisters. Taking care of the poorest and showing love to them are such clear signs of God’s love. So many other people across the world are walking along the same road of solidarity; without them where would we be on this earth?

4 Inequalities sooner or later lead to violence. 20% of the world population, living in the most developed countries, use 80% of the natural resources of our planet. A responsible management of the sources of energy and of drinking water is becoming more and more urgent.

5 On the occasion of Brother Roger’s funeral, the prior of the Grande Chartreuse, Marcellin Theeuwes, wrote: “The dramatic circumstances of Brother Roger’s death are merely an outer covering that serves to bring still more to light the vulnerability that he cultivated as a doorway preferred by God in order to come in and be with us.” (See also 2 Corinthians 12:10.)

6 A Christian of the fourth century expressed well how prayer and commitment are complementary. For him, taking part in the Eucharist impels us to solidarity with the poor: “You wish to honour the body of the Saviour? The same one who said This is my body also said: You saw I was hungry and you didn’t give me to eat. What you did not do to one of the least, you refused to me! So honour Christ by sharing your possessions with the poor.” (Saint John Chrysostom, Homily 50 on Matthew.)

7 Already the Christians of the first generation, a tiny minority in the world, had this conviction: Christ destroyed the wall of separation between peoples by giving his life on the cross.
(See Ephesians 2:14-16.)

8 A Christian living in Palestine in the sixth century wrote, “Imagine that the world is a circle, that God is the center, and that the radii are the different ways human beings live. When those who wish to come closer to God walk towards the center of the circle, they come closer to one another at the same time as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another. And the closer they come to one another, the closer they come to God.” (Dorotheus of Gaza, Instructions VI.)

9 “The Church’s relationship with other religions is dictated by a twofold respect: respect for man in his quest for answers to the deepest questions of his life, and respect for the action of the Spirit in man. (…) Every authentic prayer is prompted by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in every human heart.” (John Paul II, Redemptoris missio).
As Christians, we cannot hide the fact that at the heart of our faith is Christ Jesus, who relates us to God in a unique way (see 1 Timothy 2:5). But far from making a true dialogue impossible, this absolute commits us to it, because if Jesus is unique, it is by his humility. That is why we can never look down on others in his name, but only welcome them and let ourselves be welcomed by them.

10 One of those who can support us on this way is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the darkest hours of the twentieth century, he gave his life to the point of martyrdom. A few months before his death, he wrote in prison these words which we now sing in Taizé:
“God, let my thoughts be gathered to you.
With you there is light, you do not forget me.
With you there is help, with you there is patience.
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me.”

Last updated: 10 December 2006


[IMatthew 25:40.

[IIIsaiah 43:1-4

[IIIBrother Roger, Letter to the People of God, 1976.

[IVSee Luke 13:18-21.

[VSee Luke 1:79.