“Poznań, capital of European Christian youth”

From Tuesday 29 December till Saturday 2 January, 30,000 young adults from all over Europe had a rendezvous in Poznan, Poland, for the 32nd European Meeting of Taizé. The event was prepared for in detail by the 2000 Polish volunteers and the 150 host parishes.

The suburbs of the city were still asleep on Tuesday morning, but Wyzwolenia Street was already full of life with an endless flow of buses, security cars, and pilgrims carrying heavy backpacks.

Long before sunrise, twenty police officers had set up barriers to channel the flow of buses from France, Italy and the Netherlands who were expected to arrive during the morning. The same thing was happening at ten other points in the city. Antoinette, aged 18, wrapped up in the orange vest of the volunteers, climbs into the bus from Lille with a hearty “Witajcie!” (Welcome).

Maxime, 21, in charge of the delegation from Nord-Pas-de-Calais, with rings under his eyes and his voice weary after “16 hours of singing in a bus”, resumes in this way what the 114 young people who had travelled with him were expecting: “Many do not know Taizé, but they are eager to discover this unique way of living their faith together, through encounter and inwardness.”

For others, regular participants in these “pilgrimages of trust” launched by Brother Roger in 1978, coming to Poznan is a “unique occasion to make a spiritual ‘halt’ at the end of the year and before the six monthly exams”, confides Eve, 21, studying midwifery at Lille and for whom this was her fourth European meeting.

In the tram, already warmed up by the songs of Taizé, taking them to their host parish, Eve and her friends of the same age, Floriane and Clémence, recall the unique atmosphere that they have appreciated for years. “Meeting together with young people from all over Europe in order to share, but above all to pray, is beyond price”, says Floriane.

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Clemence feels she needs these meetings in order to “take stock at times when we have important choices to make in our professional end personal lives”. If their motivations are not all alike, our three from the North are agreed on one point: the joy of being in Poland. “The young people from Poland have always travelled thousands of kilometres to get to the meetings or to go to Taizé. So for us to come here is a minimum.”

If they had already heard about the legendary hospitality of the Polish, they certainly did not expect to be welcomed whenever they arrived at the tram stop. Matki Odkupiciela Parish is only a short distance away, but Piotrek, 17, and other volunteers carry their heavy baggage.

“Welcoming them is the best way to celebrate New Year; there are so many people to meet, so many nationalities, so many cultures!”, he exclaims as we arrive at the parish house that now seems like a tower of Babel, with each host family trying to make contact with their guests.

On Monday evening, just before the meeting, young Polish volunteers are busy putting the final touches to the welcome arrangements. Andrzej, 25, one of the pillars of the organisation, is hooked on his cell phone in order to coordinate the four teams who will welcome the 19,000 Polish at their arrival point.

“The most stressful moment is the evening before arrival day” confirms Brother Emile, one of the coordinators of the meeting. On the other hand, as far as accommodation is concerned, there is no worry at all. “The families have responded in great numbers. Not only will all the participants be lodged in families, certain families will unfortunately not be able to welcome any of them in their homes.”

The city very much wanted to have this meeting. The Archbishop of Poznan, Mgr Stanislaw Gadecki, expressed a special invitation to the brothers of Taizé in 2003. So, at the end of the meeting in Brussels last year, when the choice of Poznan was announced, the very first volunteers, like Andrzej, started work in depth right away. Andrzej criss-crossed the country in order to “mobilise the troops”, as he says with a smile.

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In parishes, in high schools, and in universities, he reminded young people that “they must not be afraid to take their place in the Church. If the parishes still manage to mobilise the young adults, change will come bit by bit.” He has been going to Taizé for ten years. “It is precisely this kind of key moment that makes it possible to strengthen the link between the Church and young people.”

In the exhibition halls, nearly 1500 volunteers applied themselves to putting up direction signs, and above all to warming up the big cold walls with the help of posters in warm colours, prepared over recent months by the brothers.

The halls were ready on Tuesday evening to welcome people for the first large prayer together. The prayer is the heart of these meetings. Three times a day, the same rhythm as on the hill in Burgundy.

“You have to experience a time of prayer during one of Taizé’s European meetings in order to measure the depth and even the power of such an event”, confides Victor, one of the 1500 Ukrainians taking part: the second delegation after the Polish, and on a par with France.

These thousands of young adults seated on the floor, with no flag other than their faith, and before them, kneeling before the altar, the brothers of Taizé in the white albs. The songs are simple, meditative, taken up by the crowd, at length, again and again.

And above all, the times of silence. Brother Alois, in his meditation on Tuesday evening, called on these thousands of young adults, immobile, their head between their hands, eyes closed, to “change their hearts” in order to “contribute as Christians to mark the face of the new world that is emerging”.

Anna Latron, à Poznan (Pologne) La Croix 31 12 2009

Last updated: 6 January 2010