Contact Us

Pilgrimage of Trust: Brother Roger of Taizé

30 November, 1999

Borther Roger founded an ecumenical monastic community at Taizé and initiated a spiritual movement of young people working for peace.

“Costly in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his friends.”

On 16 August 2005, the ecumenical monastic community of Taizé began their evening prayer as normal. Around 2,000 young people were praying with them in the Church of Reconciliation. They were singing “O give thanks for the Risen Christ our Lord, for God’s love will never end, alleluia!” when a woman – probably mentally disturbed – entered the brothers’ area and struck their founder, Br Roger Schutz, violently with fatal knife blows.

The fact that this 90 year-old divine little man was gone was a huge sadness in itself. But the brutal manner of his death left many stunned, especially the hundreds of thousands who have been refreshed by staying with the community. It was a front-page story in many European newspapers. An acknowledgment of the fact that we had lost one of the great spiritual lights of our time.

I have spent a week each summer for the past three years in Taizé, which is situated near the ancient monastery town of Cluny in France. I find their sung prayer three times a day and bible reflection, set in the simplicity of a basic community life very enriching. Its enduring appeal is attested to by the thousands of young people who come to camp out and pray in Taizé every summer. As a friend once put it: “Taizé is like a cross between a little bit of heaven and a refugee camp.”

Last June was the first time I got to personally meet Br Roger, after the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist. His health and strength seemed to have deteriorated somewhat in comparison with previous years. His short multilingual reflections during evening prayer were more breathy and harder to decipher. But up close his eyes shone with youth and his radiant smile was no façade. It came from the depths of his being, where he treasured and welcomed the presence of Christ. His grip and embrace felt as if he wanted to gather you into that safety.

Br Roger, a Calvinist from Switzerland, founded the community of Taizé in 1940, wanting to seek God in joy, simplicity and trust. He was good friends with Mother Teresa, with whom he wrote books on prayer. He was also close to the then auxiliary Bishop Wojtyla of Krakow during the Second Vatican Council. Both used go to pray in a chapel of St Peter’s Basilica and that is how they got acquainted.

Later, Archbishop Wojtyla visited Taizé in 1964 and 1968 and asked Roger to speak at a miners’ pilgrimage in Silesia at which he presided. When elected Pope, he received Br Roger in a private audience every year until 2004. John Paul II stopped at Taizé on 5 October 1986 saying that he “felt obliged… in my heart” to see them. “One passes through Taizé as one passes close to a spring of water,” he said. “The traveller stops, quenches his thirst and continues on his way.”

To the brothers, John Paul said: “By desiring to be yourselves a ‘parable of community’, you will help all whom you meet to be faithful to their church affiliation… to enter more and more deeply into the mystery of communion that the Church is in God’s plan”. Brought forward in a wheelchair at the late Pope’s funeral, Br Roger was the first to receive communion from the main celebrant, the future Pope Benedict XVI.
In the immediate aftermath of their founder’s tragic death, the community of Taizé continued to be ‘a parable’ – of forgiveness. In the church later that same evening Br François said: “In the Bible, we find these words: ‘Costly in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his friends.’ This death of Br Roger is costly… and terribly so. Death is like something being torn away, and a violent death even more so… In the face of violence, we can respond only with peace”.

“Br Roger never stopped insisting on this. Peace requires a commitment of our whole being, inwardly and outwardly, our whole person. So let us communicate peace to one another, and do everything we can so that each person stays in hope. These words from the Bible say that this death is costly not only to us. It is costly to God. God himself participates in our sorrow. He is suffering with us. This is how God feels ‘the death of his friends’.”

“Br Roger was certainly a friend of God. From the beginning, he used all his strength so that we should understand that God loves us with a love that has no end, a love that excludes no-one, a love that accepts us as we are, a love that has no limits. And if it is true that this death means a sorrow that touches God himself, we would like to do everything to express to him our gratitude, our thankfulness for all that Br Roger has been among us.”

A few days later, speaking at an ecumenical gathering at World Youth Day in Cologne, Pope Benedict XVI called Br Roger a “great pioneer of unity… On the day of his assassination, I received a letter from him that moved my heart, because in it he… announced to me that he wanted to come and see me. He is now visiting us and speaking to us from on high. I think that we must listen to him. 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”.

“If we are at present undertaking a pilgrimage of trust on earth with young people from every continent, it is because we are aware of how urgent peace is. We can contribute to peace to the extent that we try to respond to the following questions by the life we live: Can I become a bearer of trust where I live? Am I ready to understand others better and better?”
Br Roger during the 2004 meeting of young people in Lisbon, Portugal.

This article originally appeared in The Word magazine.