Secret of Taizé Community

What Attracted 80,000 Young People to Paris

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PARIS, FEB. 5, 2003 ( The recent European meeting of the ecumenical Community of Taizé had two objectives: to grow in the faith and to prepare to take on responsibilities.

That’s how Brother Émile, a Canadian-born monk with Taizé, described the Dec. 28-Jan. 1 meeting to ZENIT. About 80,000 young Europeans participated in the Paris event.

Q: What is the secret of the Taizé Community’s power of convocation to attract thousands of young people every year, in a different country?

Brother Émile: We ourselves are amazed by the crowds of young people who come to Taizé every week from March to November and then, also, to the end-of-the-year meetings.

Paris was the 25th European meeting. Youth has changed a lot in 25 years, yet they are faithful to the meeting. I don’t know if there is a secret. A certain confidence has been communicated from one generation to another.

Q: Does Taizé confirm that young people really have a thirst for God and for communal life?

Brother Émile: One can certainly speak of a thirst for God in young people. At the same time one must say that they are rarely aware of the thirst within them. How can they find words to express their expectation?

For many, there is first the experience of common prayer, in which they participate initially out of curiosity. And there, they often experience a shock. Prayer is discovered as a time of beauty, especially through singing, listening to some biblical texts, long times of silence.

“To pray is to discover that we are not orphans,” our friend Olivier Clément loves to say. I think that that is what many young people discover in a European meeting.

Q: What can be done in face of young people’s rejection of the institutional Church?

Brother Émile: Youth today rarely has the aggressive reactions against the Church that one saw previously. When they have an experience of communion, of an improbable unity in diversity, which can be experienced in a great gathering, they are amazed and many ask themselves: What is the source of what we are experiencing together?

Without it being always explicit to them, it is the intuition of the Church that is born in them.

To give time to listen to young people, has always been a priority at Taizé. To listen to them, not to overwhelm them with advice, but to accompany them in that passage from protestation to attestation.

At the time of one of his last stays in Taizé, Paul Ricoeur evoked a passage to describe what happens in prayer at Taizé. One could also say that that passage was made through listening and exchanges. When he visited Taizé, Pope John Paul II also recalled how the expectations of young people are an opportunity for the Church.

Q: Will a certain form of communal life be the formula for the Church of the future?

Brother Émile: At Taizé, we encourage young people to rediscover their local Church. A parish has the vocation to be a communal place. Within parishes, many young people have started small prayer groups that meet once a week. These groups are very precious to help young people to persevere in a life of faith.

Isolation makes one suffer and doubt. One must certainly seek to find how to come out of this. To discover a community with which it is possible to share the faith and to pray is a great joy for young people.

Q: Has Taizé succeeded in being an ecumenical community or is the Catholic weight still the majority?

Brother Émile: Taizé continues to be an ecumenical community. Of course young Catholics were the majority at the Paris meeting, as is the case in Europe, but several thousand young Orthodox from Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and then several thousand young Protestants from Germany, Estonia, Latvia and Sweden participated in the meeting.

Moreover, it was parishes of all confessions that welcomed them in the Île de France. Many young people were touched to discover the messages of support that were sent by Pope John Paul, Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, as well as Protestant leaders.

Q: What is Taizé’s message for the world?

Brother Émile: Taizé’s message? This is not our way, but I would like to quote the passage of the letter of Brother Roger that young people meditated on during those days in Paris: “For confidence to arise on earth, it is important that it begin in oneself: to walk with a reconciled heart, to live in peace with those around us. Peace on earth is prepared in the measure that each one of us dares to ask himself: am I prepared to seek interior peace, ready to go forward in selflessness? Even if deprived, can I be truly confident, there where I live, with understanding for others that will ever grow?”

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