I was listening to music from Taizé recently and it brought back happy memories of my experiencing the Spirituality of the Taizé Community and its message of being – as the Prior Brother Alois says – a ‘Pilgrimage of Trust on earth which brings together young people from many countries, as we understand more and more deeply this reality: all humanity forms a single family and God lives within every human being without exception’.
The Taizé community does this through welcoming thousands of young people each summer to spend a week at the little town of Taizé in France. They meet others from different countries, churches, or those who are experiencing a loss of faith and are searching, who come together to engage with the brothers, one another and to reflect on their self and their relationship with God.
This is done in their sharing in groups, helping out with communal tasks, being with one another and gathering together three times a day in the Church of Reconciliation for prayer, singing and silence.
The Taizé Community was founded in 1940 when Roger Schutz arrived in the village of Taizé.
When younger he had been affected by ill health and as time passed he experienced the call to form a community where simplicity and kind-heartedness would be lived out as essential gospel realities. Gradually other young men joined him and offered support to prisoners of war and on Easter Sunday 1949 the group of brothers committed themselves for life.
In 1962 the Church of the Reconciliation was built and has been extended on a number of occasions due to the number of young people coming to Taizé.
In time Br Roger wanted to reach out to young people in various continents. Gatherings began to take place in different countries throughout the world as he wanted people to be undertaking a ‘Pilgrimage of Trust’.
My first experience of Taizé was in 1988 when I participated in the meeting in Paris from the 28th of December until the 1st of January to end the year and welcome the new year in prayer.
Br Roger always hoped that ‘young people would agree to continue searching, that they don’t give up during periods of doubt, but continue to seek the meaning of their own life, the meaning that God places in every person, that Jesus unites Himself with each of us and He gives us deep peace in our lives. Everyone receives something which cannot be created by themselves, a communion, a mysterious presence’.
In 1990 Caroline, now my wife, and I spent a week in Taizé. While there we met Brother Roger and I said it would be lovely if he were to come to Scotland. Afterwards we never thought any more about it as we just assumed he must get many invites to visit many countries.
The next day Brother Stephen asked me to come in to the community house to meet with him and Brother Matthew. There he told me that Br Roger would come to Scotland!
It had turned out that Glasgow University had awarded Brother Roger an honorary doctorate and wanted to confer it. He was going to take the opportunity to receive it as a young person, I was only 22!, had invited him to come to Scotland.
There was soon a core group of people from different churches co-ordinating the visit with Brother Stephen and Brother Rob who had come over from Taizé. Being young I was chosen to liaise with the press in print, radio, and briefly on television.
The biggest gathering was in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh on June 18 1991 where a large number of young people and adults listened to and prayed with Br Roger. The next day a smaller gathering took place at Glasgow University.
In 1995 I visited the Taizé Community in Hell’s Kitchen in New York where the brothers had a presence among the people. The area has since been redeveloped and the brothers withdrew. The community now has a presence in Kenya, Senegal, Bangladesh, Korea, Brazil, and in a suburb of Paris among asylum seekers.
Sadly, on August 16 2005 Brother Roger was stabbed to death at Evening Prayer. This ended his earthly journey but the Taizé Community continues its presence and outreach to young people. At COP26 two brothers came to Scotland and met with young people from different Churches and there are small Taizé groups in Glasgow where people meet together for prayer.
It is clear that the message ‘A Pilgrimage of Trust’ will continue to spread throughout the world.
Deacon Michael O’Donnell