Brother Alois

2009 Letter from Kenya

From the 26th to the 30th of November 2008, 7000 young people from different regions of Kenya as well as from other African countries and other continents met together in Nairobi. It was the second international meeting organized in Africa by the Taizé Community, after one in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1995. This stage in the “pilgrimage of trust on earth” was hosted by more than eighty parishes of the different Churches of Nairobi. Its aim was to help create more fraternal relationships, and to move beyond the mistaken views of others perpetuated by the lack of contact between peoples and by the wounds of history.
The Taizé Community has been present for 55 years on the African continent by small groups of brothers sharing the lives of the very poor. Over the years, brothers have lived in Algeria, Ivory Coast, Niger, Rwanda and Kenya. For sixteen years now, some brothers have been living in Senegal, in a predominantly Muslim district of Dakar.
Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop emeritus of Cape Town (South Africa), writes: “Africa is a place where crucifixion and resurrection find their deepest meaning, and where building trust and reconciliation is an ongoing daily reality… We are all children of God and in Christ there is no Rwandese or Congolese, there is no Burundian or Kenyan, no Nigerian or South African: we are all one in Christ Jesus. I know that this is the message that the Taizé Community also proclaims and that they are in solidarity with us as we press this message home in South Africa, across the whole continent of Africa and in the rest of the world where ‘fear of the stranger’ still needs to be turned into friendship and reconciliation and trust.”
In Africa, trials do not take away that sense of dignity which is so often evident among the very poor. The difficulties of life do not banish joy; a serious outlook does not exclude dancing. Many are those who refuse to give in to despair. Women are often in the forefront; with inventiveness and perseverance they take on a great many tasks in family and society.
In the face of the divisions that are tearing the continent apart, many people continue to strive courageously for reconciliation and pacification. Christians are called to hold on firmly to this hope: the bond of baptism in Christ is stronger than divisions. There are African Christians who have paid for that conviction of faith with their lives.
This “Letter from Kenya,” written by Brother Alois for the year 2009, was made public during the young adult European meeting that brought together 40,000 young adults in Brussels at the end of December 2008.

All over the world, society and the ways people behave are changing rapidly. While unprecedented possibilities of development are multiplying, instability is growing too and worries about the future are becoming more pronounced. [1]

For technical and economic progress to go hand in hand with greater humanity, it is indispensable to search for a deeper meaning to existence. In the face of the weariness and helplessness that many people feel, the question arises: what is the source from which we draw life?

Already centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah indicated a source when he wrote: “Those who hope in the Lord renew their strength; they run and are not exhausted; they walk and do not grow weary.” [2]

Many more people than in the past are unable to find this source. Even the name of God is fraught with misunderstandings or else is completely forgotten. 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? Surely by being attentive to the presence of God. There we can draw hope and joy.
Then the source begins to flow once more and our life becomes meaningful. We become able to take responsibility for our life—to receive it as a gift and to give it in our turn for those entrusted to us.

Even if we have very little faith, a reversal takes place whereby we no longer live centered on ourselves. By opening the gates of our own heart to God, we prepare the way for God to come for many others as well.

Taking responsibility for our life

Yes, God is present in every person, whether they are believers or not. From its very first page, the Bible describes in a beautiful and poetic way the gift that God makes of his breath of life to every human being. [3]

By his life on earth, Jesus revealed God’s infinite love for each person. In giving himself to the very end, he allowed God’s yes to pervade the depths of our human condition. [4] Ever since the resurrection of Christ, we can no longer despair of the world or of ourselves.

From that time on, God’s breath, the Holy Spirit, has been given to us for ever. [5] By his Spirit who dwells in our hearts, God says yes to what we are. We never tire of hearing these words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord will take pleasure in you, and your land will be married.” [6]

So let us consent to what we are or what we are not; let us even take responsibility for all we have not chosen but which makes us who we are. [7] Let us dare to be creative even with what is not perfect. And we will find freedom. Even when overburdened, we will receive our life as a gift and each day as God’s today. [8]

Led beyond ourselves

If God is in us, he also goes ahead of us. [9] He takes us as we are, but he also draws us beyond ourselves. At times he comes to unsettle our life, overturning our plans and our projects. [10] Jesus’ life helps us to enter into this way of looking at things.

Jesus let the Holy Spirit lead him onward. He never stopped referring to the invisible presence of God his Father. That was the basis of his freedom, which led him to give his life for love. In Jesus, a relationship with God and freedom were not mutually exclusive but rather reinforced one another. [11]

In all of us there is the desire for an absolute; we aspire to it with our whole being—body, soul and mind. A thirst for love burns in each person, from infants to the elderly. Even the greatest human intimacy cannot completely satisfy it.

We often experience these aspirations as a lack or as emptiness. They can sometimes cause us to lose focus. But far from being an anomaly, they are part of our being. They are a gift; already they contain within them God’s call to open ourselves.

So each person is invited to ask themselves: what steps forward am I asked to take now? It is not necessarily a matter of “doing more”. What we are called to is to love more. And since love requires our entire being to express itself, it is up to us to find ways of being attentive to our neighbor, and to do so without waiting a moment longer.

What little we can do, we must do

Helping one another to deepen our faith

Too many young people feel alone on their inner journey. Two or three persons can already assist one another, sharing and praying together, even with those who affirm that they are closer to doubt than to faith. [12]

This type of sharing is greatly reinforced when it is integrated into the local Church. [13] It is the community of communities, where all the generations gather and where people do not choose one another. The Church is God’s family, that communion which draws us out of isolation. There we are welcomed; there God’s yes to our existence becomes a reality; there we find God’s indispensable consolation. [14]

If parishes and youth groups were first of all places of heartfelt kindness and of trust, places of hospitality where we are attentive to the weakest!

Going beyond the compartmentalization of our societies

If we are to take part in building a more united human family, is not one of the urgent tasks to look at the world “from below”? [15] That way of looking entails a great simplicity of life.

Communication is becoming easier and easier and yet at the same time societies remain highly compartmentalized. The risk of mutual indifference continues to grow. Let us move beyond all that keeps us apart! Let us go towards those who suffer! Let us visit those who are neglected and mistreated! Let us think of the immigrants, so close to us and yet often so far away! [16] Where suffering intensifies, practical projects, which are all signs of hope, are frequently seen to be on the increase.

To struggle against injustice and the threat of conflicts, and to encourage a sharing of material goods, it is essential to acquire skills. Persevering in one’s studies or in professional training can also be a service rendered to others.
If there are scandalous forms of poverty and injustice that are plain to see, there are other kinds of poverty that are less visible. Loneliness is one of them. [17]

Prejudices and misunderstandings are sometimes passed on from one generation to the next and can lead to acts of violence. There are also forms of violence that seem harmless, but which in fact do great damage and which humiliate others. Mockery is one of these. [18]

Wherever we are, and whether we are alone or with a few others, let us search for practical things we can do in situations of distress. In this way we will discover the presence of Christ even in places where we would not have expected to find him. Risen from the dead, he is present in the midst of human beings. He goes before us along the roads of compassion. And already now, through the Holy Spirit, he is renewing the face of the earth.

[1In many countries, despite the growth of the world economy and hopes for development, slums are becoming larger instead of smaller and unemployment is devastating for many people, particularly the young. In Africa, rapid technical progress threatens to stifle the sense of gradual maturation so fruitful in traditional life. Moreover, solidarity among members of families and ethnic groups is growing weaker. How can this value be brought to life again and be extended beyond the limits of families and ethnic groups? That would help to limit the departure of so many young people attracted by countries with a higher standard of living without always being able to weigh the consequences of such a decision.

[2Isaiah 40:31. When these words were spoken, weariness was already a reality. “I said: I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all” (Isaiah 49:4). And again: “Even youths grow tired and weary; young men stumble and fall” (Isaiah 40:30). But the prophet reawakens hope: “The Lord is the everlasting God. He gives strength to the weary” (Isaiah 40:28-29).

[3It is true that many obstacles risk stifling life: injustice in all its forms, violence around us and in us, the spirit of competition, our mistakes, fear of—or becoming closed to—what is different, lack of self-esteem….

[4In vast regions of Africa, for example among the Masai Christians, Christ is seen as the elder brother. That corresponds to the expression of the early Christians: Christ is “the eldest of many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29). By his death and resurrection, Jesus goes beyond family and ethnic solidarities (see Colossians 1:18-20).

[5In the biblical languages, “breath” and “spirit” are the same word. The prophets announced that, through the Holy Spirit, God would dwell within human beings himself (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Through the coming of Christ, by his death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit is given “without measure” (John 3:34). From then on God’s Breath has been constantly at work within humanity, so that one day it may form a single Body in Christ.

[6Isaiah 62:1-4.

[7Taking responsibility for present realities does not mean accepting everything or submitting passively to events. We may be led to resist an unjust situation or to denounce it.

[8One of Brother Roger’s earliest books bore the title Living in God’s Today (1958). Brother Roger was convinced of the importance of believers being fully present to contemporary society rather than taking refuge in nostalgia for the past or fleeing towards an illusory future. It is only in the present moment that we can encounter God and root our lives in him.

[9An African Christian, Saint Augustine, wrote this prayer in the fourth century: “You were more inward to me than my most inward part; and higher than my highest” (Confessions, Book III, 6, 11).

[10“My ways are not your ways”, says the Lord (Isaiah 55:8). The Virgin Mary also consented to looking beyond present events, even the incomprehensible death of her son, while still believing that God was faithful to his promise of life.

[11During the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2008, Cardinal Danneels, the archbishop of Malines-Brussels, declared, “The force of the Word implies the freedom of the hearer’s response. This is precisely the power proper to the Word of God. It does not eliminate the freedom of the hearer, but is the foundation of it.”

[12Jesus said, “When two or three meet together in my name, I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).

[13The first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). In Africa, as in Latin America and in some Asian countries, Christians meet not only in parishes but also by district, by village, in small church communities. They pray together and offer each other mutual support. There is human warmth and a personal commitment by each individual that helps make the Church an authentic place of communion.

[14In Africa, the Church is often seen as God’s family and God as a mother who comforts. Already the prophet Isaiah had written: “God says: As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13). See also Isaiah 49:13-15. Looking at the Church in this way compels us to strive for its unity. We cannot resign ourselves passively to God’s family remaining split into a host of different denominations.

[15The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer belonged to a rather privileged social class but, during the Second World War, his involvement in the resistance cast him into a precarious situation, and then led him to prison and to death. In 1943 he wrote: “An experience of incomparable value remains, that we have learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the excluded, those under suspicion, the mistreated, the powerless, the oppressed and despised, in short, of those who suffer.”

[16Although efforts are fortunately being made today to keep alive cultures threatened with extinction, it is true that no culture develops in a vacuum. In the age of globalization, the mixing of cultures is not only inevitable; it is an advantage for our societies.

[17A Kenyan proverb reminds us of this: “There is no man who cannot become an orphan.”

[18In the Rule of Taizé (1954), Brother Roger wrote, “Mockery, that poison of a common life, is treacherous because under its cover are flung the so-called truths one dares not say face to face. It is cowardly, because it ruins the character of a brother before the others.”

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