Taiz? After Brother Roger's Death: 'A True Time of Grace'
TAIZé, France — Since it was founded in the late 1940s by Brother Roger Schutz, the 100-member ecumenical community of Taizé has had an influence on Christianity far out of proportion to its small size.
As a token of that influence, more than 10,000 people flooded into the French village Aug. 23 to attend Brother Roger's funeral Mass, which was celebrated by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The 90-year-old Taizé founder was murdered a week earlier by a mentally ill Romanian woman during a prayer service.
Brother Roger's successor as the leader of the Taizé community is Brother Alois Leser, 51, a German Catholic who has been a member of Taizé since 1974. Brother Alois spoke via e-mail with Register correspondent Edward Pentin shortly after the funeral.
How is the community coping with the death of Brother Roger?
The way he died was shocking and totally unexpected, and we do not yet have the words to express what the significance could be. But we were astonished, with so many thousands of young people present, how serene everything has remained. Our community prayer was interrupted for a few seconds, and then the singing began again with even greater intensity.
It is astonishing, but these days have been for us a true time of grace.
Did Brother Roger leave a will or guidelines as to how he would like the community to continue?
At the very beginning of the community, Brother Roger wrote a text called the Rule of Taizé. Later he changed the title to ‘The Sources of Taizé’.
That text gives the basic guidelines of our life, but more important than a written text, he communicated to us a way of life which carries us forward.
What in your opinion is Brother Roger's greatest legacy?
At his funeral I mentioned two important convictions of his, although there are certainly others. The first was the words he often repeated: ‘God is united to every human being without exception.’ That confidence lies at the root of our ecumenical vocation.
And the second was his emphasis on kind-heartedness, which is not an empty word, but a force able to transform the world, because through it God is at work.
Some reports say that Brother Roger must have secretly converted to the Catholic Church as he received Holy Communion from Pope Benedict at Pope John Paul II's funeral. Did he ever convert to the Church?
Brother Roger's entire life was a passionate search for unity beyond the old and new divisions between believers in Christ. He believed that reconciliation was really possible, and that it has to begin within each one of us. He made no secret of his conviction.
Pope John Paul II's funeral was not the first time Brother Roger received holy Communion in Rome. Already in Krakow when he was invited by Cardinal Wojtyla for a pilgrimage of miners, and for 25 years in St. Peter's, he took Communion.
He described his personal journey in this way: ‘I found my own Christian identity by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, without breaking fellowship with anyone.’
Have you always been Catholic?
Yes, and I have discovered more and more that catholicity means that the Church is open to the gifts of the other traditions as well. That's how we try to live in Taizé.
What is your vision for the future of Taizé?
We will continue on the way that Brother Roger opened for us, which at present means welcoming all the young people who visit us. We will attempt to be faithful to the main intuitions of Brother Roger and at the same time open to the new challenges that will certainly present themselves.
How do you see Taizé's role in promoting an authentic ecumenism during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI?
On the day after Brother Roger's death, the Pope read a letter he had just received from Brother Roger, who said to him: ‘Our Community of Taizé wants to go forward in communion with the Holy Father.’ It was the last letter that Brother Roger wrote.
Since the decisive meetings Brother Roger had with Pope John XXIII, the community has always been attentive to the ministry of a universal pastor. Ways need to be found for this ministry to foster reconciliation among all the followers of Christ.
Do you foresee great strides made in ecumenism with this Pope?
Pope Benedict XVI insists very much on the spiritual dimension of ecumenism, that the search for reconciliation among Christians not just be a matter of ideas but of concrete acts, of a life.
But of course, this does not only depend on him but on many other Christians too, from all the traditions.
As the Holy Father said to the ecumenical representatives in Cologne, ‘I think that we must listen to [Brother Roger], from within we must listen to his spiritually lived ecumenism and allow ourselves to be led by his witness towards an interiorized and spiritualized ecumenism.’
Edward Pentin is based in Rome.
- September 11-17, 2005