The Hill of Taizé

A Reflection on 70 Years of Ecumenism

Share this Entry

ROME, AUG. 29, 2010 ( Here is a translation of a reflection made by Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of L’Osservatore Romano, for the 70th anniversary of Brother Roger Schutz’s arrival on the hill of Taizé in France.

Brother Roger started the ecumenical Taizé community, and was killed five years ago at age 90.

* * *

It was Aug. 20, 1940, 70 years ago, when Roger Schutz arrived for the first time in Taizé. In that summer of war in a France subjected to the invader, the Swiss Calvinist pastor certainly could not imagine that in a not too distant future — already during the decade of the 50s — other European young people, many and later very many more, would climb that hill in the heart of Burgundy, in an undulating and gentle rural region on whose horizon often great clouds are seen. In the beginning they arrived spontaneously, as he, perhaps, in autostop; later from all the continent in organized groups, especially during the summer or at Easter.

In the liturgical calendar, Aug. 20 is the feast of St. Bernard, who lived in Citeaux, not far from Taizé, which in turn is just a few kilometers from Cluny: under the sign of monastic reforms that have marked the history of the Church. And already in 1940 the young Schutz began to take in refugees and Jews, thinking of a plan of common life with some friends, which he began two years later in Geneva because of the impossibility of staying in France. He returned to Taizé during the war, and he renewed his hospitality, this time to German prisoners and orphan children. Whoever arrives today finds a small bungalow, just beyond the old houses and the small Romanesque church, surrounded by a minuscule cemetery, and a welcome that embodies the ancient hospitality in the name of Christ inscribed in the Rule of St. Benedict.

In fact, the monastic vocation had always attracted Roger and his companions, all of Protestant origin, but sensitive to the wealth of the different Christian currents; they committed themselves already in 1949 to a form of common life in the vein of Benedictine and Ignatian spirituality, delineated some years later in the Rule of Taizé. That same year Brother Roger was received [in audience] by Pius XII together with one of his first companions, Max Thurian, and since 1958 his meetings with the Popes — John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, who was on the hill in 1986 — became an annual custom, expressing a closeness that led, from the end of the decade of the 60s, to the entrance in the community of a growing number of Catholics. And Brother Roger, already several years before his murder at the hands of an unstable woman on Aug. 16, 2005, designated a young German Catholic, Alois Loser, as his successor in the leadership of the community.

In 1962 the prior, with some brothers, began in the most absolute secret, a series of visits to some countries of Eastern Europe, while in August a modern Church of Reconciliation was inaugurated in Taizé. A very large space — but which soon had to be enlarged, in the beginning with tents, to accommodate the thousands of persons who arrived in the weeks of summer — planned for prayer three times a day in several languages. With the long moments of silence and meditative songs now very widespread, these three daily meetings were what profoundly impressed those who arrived for the first time on the hill.

For the opening of a “council of young people” in August of 1974, more than 40,000 arrived in Taizé from the whole of Europe, housed in a camp of tents, in a precariousness aggravated by torrential rain. Passing imperturbable among them was Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, sent by Paul VI, speaking amiably to young people little more than 20 years old who approached him, stained with mud and tired, but impressed by the community’s ecumenical wager. To them, for decades, in the line of the great Christian tradition, Brother Roger addressed a brief meditation every afternoon and, after the prayer, he paused to meet with and hear those who wished to speak with him or approach him.

This was in the years of youthful rebellion and the estrangement of many from the faith, the revolution of Taizé. Struggle and contemplation the prior decided to title the newspaper of those years, while the community began a “pilgrimage of trust” in the various continents. Seeking reconciliation and sharing the poverties of the world, reviving the virtually extinguished faith in numerous contexts of Central Europe, sustaining its little flame in countries suffocated by Communism, accustoming many young Catholics to an ever greater openness.

Taizé never wished to be a movement, but it always stimulated people to be involved in parishes and in local realities: practicing hospitality, encouraging the peacemakers of the evangelical beatitude, working for the union between Churches and communities of believers in Christ, showing vitality and efficacy in an ecumenical spiritual journey. That one be able to reconcile in oneself — Brother Roger, notre frere, had learned it as a youth and witnessed to it during his whole life, authentic pioneer of an “ecumenism of holiness,” as Cardinal Bertone wrote in the name of Benedict XVI — the riches of the different Christian confessions: the attention to the Bible stressed in Protestantism, the splendor of Orthodox liturgy, the centrality of the Catholic Eucharist, before which always shines in Taizé a little light that signifies adoration of the One Lord.

Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation