Interview with Brother Alois

Something without precedent

Following an article published in “Le Monde” on 6 September 2006, Brother Alois replied to questions put by “La Croix”.

La Croix: Did Brother Roger ever formally convert to Catholicism, as Yves Chiron, the historian, has just affirmed?

Brother Alois: No. Brother Roger never “converted” formally to Catholicism. If he had, he would have said so; for he never hid anything about the path he was following. All through his books, often written in the form of a journal, he explained as he went along what he was discovering and what he was living.

What exactly happened in 1972, in the chapel of the bishop’s house in Autun?

- In 1972, the then Bishop of Autun, Mgr Armand Le Bourgeois, simply gave him communion for the first time, without requiring any other profession of faith from him besides the Creed recited during the Eucharist, and which is held in common by all Christians. Several witnesses were present, three of my brothers, a couple who are friends of ours; they can attest to this.

Why at that precise moment?

- That date was chosen because Brother Roger was preparing to receive the life commitment of the first Catholic brother of the community and it was unthinkable not to receive communion at the same Eucharistic table. Several months later, Mgr Le Bourgeois came to Taizé and, in the same way, gave communion to all the brothers of the community.

Did Brother Roger himself testify explicitly to that development?

- He understood very early in his life that in order to pass on the Gospel to young people a reconciliation of Christians was necessary. After John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council, he considered that the time for reconciliation had come. He often told how, during his last meeting with John XXIII, in 1963, he was eager to hear a spiritual testament from the pope and he asked him about the place of Taizé in the Church. John XXIII replied, making circular gestures with his hands, “The Catholic Church is made of concentric circles that are always bigger and bigger.” The pope did not specify in which circle he saw Taizé but Brother Roger understood that the pope wanted to say to him: you are already within, continue simply on this path. And that is what he did.

You were close to him for many years; he even designated you as his successor, what was really at issue for Brother Roger in this way that he followed?

- The way that he followed led him more and more to discover and bring to light the fullness of the tradition of the Church. He was not interested in an individual solution for reconciliation but, through many tentative steps, he sought which way could be accessible for others. Of Protestant origin, he accomplished something that was without precedent since the Reformation. In 1980, during a European young adult meeting in Rome, he expressed this publicly in the following terms in Saint Peter’s Basilica, in presence of Pope John Paul II, “I have found my own identity as a Christian by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.” Receiving an Orthodox delegation one day, John Paul II later spoke of a communion that is “neither absorption, nor fusion, but a meeting in truth and in love”.

Why was there so much discretion around something he wanted to be a testimony?

- Since his approach was progressive and completely new, it was difficult to express and to understand. It was easy to misinterpret it. Thus, to speak in terms of “conversion” is not to understand the originality of what Brother Roger was seeking. The word “conversion” is weighed down with history; “conversion” implies a break with your origins. Brother Roger accepted that for some an individual conversion might be a way, but for himself and for our community he preferred to speak of communion. For him, entering progressively into a full communion with the Catholic Church was given concrete expression in two points he never kept secret: receiving the Eucharist and recognizing the necessity of a ministry of unity exercised by the Bishop of Rome.

Even at the price of still being misunderstood?

- Brother Roger’s aims have not been understood by everyone, but they have been welcomed by many; by Pope John Paul II, by Catholic bishops and theologians who have come to celebrate the Eucharist at Taizé, and also by leaders of Protestant and Orthodox Churches with whom Brother Roger patiently built up trust in the course of many years.

Interview by Jean-Marie GUENOIS

Last updated: 12 April 2008