Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Brother Roger of Taizé: Apostle of Reconciliation

Today is the sixth anniversary of the death of Brother Roger Schutz of Taizé. Brother Roger was stabbed to death during the evening prayer service in Taizé on August 16, 2005 by Luminiţa Ruxandra Solcan. One of the brothers carried the gravely wounded Prior from the church. He died shortly afterwards. Ms. Solcan was immediately detained by members in the congregation and was taken into police custody.

Brother Roger was widely known and loved the world over. His funeral, held in the monastery Church of the Reconciliation on August 23, 2005, was attended by Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior of France and later, President of France), as well as Horst KöhlerPresident of Germany. The Taizé Community and friends were joined by thousands more who followed the service on a huge screen in fields outside the church. Brother Roger's remains lay in a simple wooden coffin, a wooden icon lying on top of it, and was borne by brothers of Taizé.

Quite amazingly, but most fittingly, the funeral of this Protestant monk was presided over by a Catholic cardinal, Walter Kasper, the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who celebrated the Mass along with four Taizé priest-brother concelebrants. In his homily he said, "Yes, the springtime of ecumenism has flowered on the hill of Taizé", alluding to a comment which Pope John XXIII had made to Brother Roger, and which Pope John Paul II repeated in a visit in 1986, "Ah, Taizé, that little springtime!" Cardinal Kasper also noted Roger's passion for justice and compassion: "Every form of injustice or neglect made him very sad". Brother Roger's successor, Brother Alois Löser, in emulation of what Brother Roger would certainly have done, prayed for forgiveness: "With Christ on the cross we say to you, Father, forgive her, she does not know what she did."

Frère Roger was born in Provence, Switzerland, May 12, 1915, and was baptised Roger Louis Schütz-Marsauche. He was the ninth and youngest child of Karl Ulrich Schütz, a Protestant pastor from Bachs in the Zürich Lowlands of Switzerland, and Amélie Henriette Schütz-Marsauche, a French Protestant woman from Burgundy.
From 1937-1940, Roger studied Reformed theology in Strasbourg and Lausanne, and was a leader in the Swiss Student Christian Movement, part of the World Student Christian FederationIn 1940, he rode a bicycle from Geneva to Taizé, a small town near Mâcon, c. 240 miles southeast of Paris. Taizé was then in unoccupied France, just beyond the zone occupied by German troops. For two years Brother Roger hid Jewish refugees before being forced to leave Taizé. In 1944, he returned there to found what was, initially, a small quasi-monastic community of men, from various denominations, living together in poverty and obedience.
Since the late 1950s, thousands of young adults from all over the world, of all beliefs or none, have flocked to Taizé, where their time is spent in weekly meetings of prayer and reflection. Eventually the Taizé brothers began making visits and leading meetings in Africa, North and South America, Asia, and in Europe, as part of a “pilgrimage of trust on earth”. This had been organized by Brother Roger in 1982 to offer young adults, generally 18-30, a way of taking part in reconciliation among Christians, and the creation of peace and justice on earth, while still rooted in their own local or Christian community.  Usually at the end of each year through the beginning of the new year, larger gatherings were held, bringing together thousands of young adults for a few days of prayer and sharing in collaboration with local churches. 

Brother Roger was characteristically humble and ordinary, keeping a low profile and rarely giving interviews. He was due to give up his community functions just before his death because his advanced age and ill-health increasingly fatigued him, and he often had to use a wheelchair. Forseeing the need for continuity in leadership of the Community, in 1998 Brother Roger designated Brother Alois Löser as his successor. Brother Alois, had originally come to Taizé from Germany as a youth and was professed as a brother of Taizé. With the approval of the Community, it was announced in January, 2005, that Brother Alois would succeed Brother Roger as Prior of Taizé.

One of the greatest blessings of my life was to meet and speak with both Brother Roger and Brother Alois in 1992, in my hometown, Dayton, OH, at the annual “Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth”. I particularly wanted to attend this event because the gathering in Dayton was the first national meeting of the Pilgrimage in North America.  It was a moving and enriching experience in every aspect, bringing together some 2000 young people and adults of various Christian traditions from the U.S., other countries, and from the former Soviet-bloc countries of Eastern Europe.  

Small-group sharing was held each morning after the 10 AM talk by one of the Brothers.  The idea was to have a diverse group -- even of different languages, along with an interpreter -- mull over the assigned Scripture reading and questions which it provoked.  "Animators" were assigned, then separated into groups of about 10 people each, which met wherever they chose to go on campus for the discussion. 

The Common Prayer service on the evening of May 22 opened with much singing of the Taizé chants, and a welcome by Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati and Bishop Kenneth Sauer, Bishop of ELCA's Southern Ohio Synod. During the service, Brother Roger knelt behind the other brothers, who were lined up on each side of the aisle in front, and he was surrounded by several children who lit the Paschal candle and accompanied him when he addressed those gathered: 

"A long time ago, two centuries after Christ, someone wrote: 'The calling God gives to Christians is so beautiful that it is not possible for them to run away from it.' Run away from what? It is not possible to run away from the wellsprings of trust in Christ. It is not possible either to run away from responsibilities for those God entrusts to us. And that requires a great inner selflessness.

Yes, selflessness is profoundly linked to the Christian vocation. Selflessness is essential to pass on faith, to communicate Christ, in short, to evangelize. The credibility of faith is to a great extent linked to simplicity of the means we use. And, too, a similar selflessness is essential when we try to take on responsibilities to make the earth a place fit to live in...

To make the earth a home for all, the Northern continents, North America and Europe, are confronted with a serious question today. Here is that question. In some regions, not everywhere, human societies are being built up by a process that separates them into two. Some people experience growing affluence. To keep their material privileges, at a certain point they need to protect themselves by defensive means. Right next to them, others live in a poverty that makes their lives more and more difficult. Especially in the cities, there are islands of poverty."

At this point, Brother Roger stopped and said: "I will stop a moment now so that a child can sing a prayer. It would be wonderful if, in churches, children could support the prayer of all the generations by singing a prayer that older people could repeat. Then I will say a few more words..."  Two black children led the chant: "The Lord is my light, my light and my salvation; in God I trust, in God I trust", alternating with the voices of those gathered. Then Brother Roger continued:

"...I was asked to say something this evening about what came before the creation of the Taizé Community. So I would like to tell how much an old woman was, for me, a witness of the faith that supported the beginnings of Taizé. I am speaking of my maternal grandmother. During the First World War, that grandmother lived in the north of France. Her three sons were fighting on the front lines. And, while the bombs were falling, she welcomed into her home people who were fleeing.

Once the war was over, that old woman said, 'We must do all we can to stop another war.' Then she said, 'Christians, at least, should stop being divided! They should be reconciled, since they profess a God of love.' To make her aspiration concrete, that woman had to begin with herself. So, of Protestant background, she went to pray in a Catholic church. In those days, she had to take an inner step all by herself.

Little by little, through that elderly woman, it became clear that selflessness is one of the burning breaths of the Gospel. That breath touches the depths of the soul.

Going further along the road that my grandmother had opened, I realized that it was necessary to create a community of brothers determined to go the whole way by saying a "Yes" that committed their entire lifetime. Men attentive to selflessness, who would take risks for the Gospel. One of those risks is that of placing forgiveness and reconciliation wherever there are divisions between Christians.

Recently, a young man from Eastern Europe said to me, 'Without forgiveness, there will never be peace.' That young man had realized that without forgiveness, without compassion, there is no future for the human being. Without forgiveness, without reconciliation, there is no future for Christians, and there is no future for the building up of the human family across the earth.

And one day we will come to understand that, for the Gospel, forgiveness and reconciliation are miracles in our lives. Forgiveness is the extreme of loving."

Following the Common Prayer service people lingered, absorbed in quiet prayer and pondering Brother Roger's simple message. At this point, Brother Roger was standing off to the left side of the auditorium as people came and went from the Cross up front to pray, and as the soft chanting continued. I noticed that a few people had gathered in front of him and that he was speaking to each individually. I quietly walked over, rehearsing in my mind what I wanted to say to him in French, because I was aware from seeing him in a video that he spoke little English. As my turn came, I was transfixed by his magnificent blue eyes, which looked directly at you with a purity of soul that's only characteristic of God’s holy ones: so gentle, so compassionate, almost as if knowing already what you wanted.  He leaned forward a bit to hear, over the music, my faltering French requesting  prayer for a family member. He then leaned back and look at me with the most loving expression, and began to pray. Though I couldn’t catch all the words, he gazed at me with those magnificent clear eyes again and said, in a heavy French accent, “She is in Christ.


John-Julian, OJN said...

Frère Roger became a Roman Catholic a year or so before his death.

I spent several hours with him at Taizé in 1974 the middle of one of the youth gatherings—an awesome sight to see the hills around Taizé as far as one could see covered with huge army tents.That time I think there were over 15,000 young people there!

Anonymous said...

Was there a reason given for the murder and what is the status of the alleged murderer?