TAIZÉ, France, DEC. 22, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Some 40,000 young people are expected to gather in Zagreb, Croatia, for the Taizé Community’s 29th European meeting, the latest stop on the “pilgrimage of trust on Earth.”
In this interview with ZENIT, Brother Alois Loser, who succeeded Brother Roger as prior of the community, expressed his hopes for this pilgrimage.
The event will take place Dec. 28-Jan. 1.
Q: In a few days, Zagreb will welcome thousands of young people from all over Europe as well as other continents. Why is this pilgrimage taking place for the first time in Croatia?
Brother Alois: For a long time, young Croats have asked us to come to Croatia.
As early as the ’70s, that is, before the political changes in Europe, they were able to come to Taizé, but it was impossible to organize a large meeting of young people there. There were political problems, the war. It was impossible.
But now, finally, we can meet in Zagreb. There is great generosity in these people and a tradition of faith that is kept much more intact than in other European countries.
Q: How are preparations on the spot taking place?
Brother Alois: The preparation is as important as the meeting itself, as the meeting lasts only a few days. It cannot be a sudden outburst, which lasts an instant, but it must change something in the country, in the city and in the local Church, as well as among the young people who attend.
For this reason, the preparations began as early as last spring: Several brothers have gone to Croatia to be on the spot. Moreover, since September, there has been a group of brothers living there along with a group of volunteers of the Taizé community.
They have visited all the parishes to reflect on this question: “What does it mean for you to host the young people who will come?” This mobilizes energies, the imagination, but also fears, such as “How can we receive so many young people?” But, in the end, it arouses joy.
Q: When are you planning to arrive? What will be your program?
Brother Alois: I will make a small detour, as I would also like to visit the neighbors, that is, Serbia, as there are also many Serbian young people who come to Taizé and, of course, we want to live in communion with them. I will go there for Christmas. It is a way of showing that we are really in communion with them.
I will pay a visit to the Orthodox Church. A visit is planned to Patriarch Pavle, and I will also take part in the Midnight Mass in the Catholic Church. From there, I will go to Zagreb.
Q: In Zagreb you will receive some 40,000 young people, according to estimates, by giving them the letter from Calcutta. What is the meaning of this letter?
Brother Alois: I have written “the letter from Calcutta” because, as you know, last October we had a meeting of young people — 6,000 youths — from the whole of Italy and of many other countries of Asia.
I think that this opening to others, in particular, to those who are very far away, is really necessary today. We live at a time when young people can more easily live a communion beyond borders, thanks to travel and the Internet. There are many more exchanges today than there were 20 years ago.
And, in that letter, I make an appeal: “Do not let yourselves be caught up by today’s discouragement.”
Many young people wonder what their personal future will be like, as well as the future of our society, including the Church’s. Indeed, if we are realistic, we don’t know where we should go. Then, we must not allow ourselves to be led by discouragement, but choose love and hope.
Q: What is expected from the young people coming from abroad? And of the Croats who will receive them?
Brother Alois: For all the young people coming from abroad, it is a question of seeing how Croatian Christians live, how they live their faith in the family, in the parish and in society.
For this reason the program will always take place in the morning in the parishes, organized by the parishes, so that the foreigners can take part in their life, even if it is only for five days.
But in five days, something can be transmitted. Thus, young people who come from abroad will feel encouraged to be more committed in their local Church, once they return home.
And we will thank Croatian young people for having shared what they are with others, and encourage them to share their values, as there truly is a great generosity in those people, a great capacity of hospitality and strength to overcome difficult situations.
And to build Europe we need the courage of reconciliation and peace. “We must have the courage of reconciliation!” This is what I want to say to Croatian young people.
Q: The ecumenical dimension of this European meeting of young people is very important. They have received numerous messages: One from Benedict XVI, from the Orthodox Patriarchs Bartholomew I and Alexy II, and one from the head of the Anglican Church. What has impressed them of these messages?
Brother Alois: Those messages are a great encouragement for me. They clearly show that what we live is also lived in the Church and with the universal Church.
We do not want to create in Taizé an isolated movement. We send the young people who come here back to their local Churches and want them to commit themselves to their local Churches. The messages we have received are therefore a reason for great encouragement in that sense.
Q: Each pilgrimage has its own particularities, as does each host country. In spite of these, what is the common message of the Taizé Community?
Brother Alois: This is our first pilgrimage to Zagreb. We’ll sew what its particularities are.
In Western Europe we are under the impression that we really don’t know Croatia. We know their beaches, but we don’t know the people, what they have lived, or their history.
I think listening to the Croats is important. How can we continue to build a unified Europe without knowing those who are requesting entry into the European community, and who are part of Europe because of their shared history.
If we don’t listen to them, then fear, prejudices and reticence will prevail, and we will close the borders.
With this meeting in Croatia, we wish to give a sign of openness. We don’t have political solutions to give, but we can prepare the terrain so that political issues can be well thought out, so that we can find solutions.
Q: After Calcutta, Milan, Hamburg, Paris, Barcelona, the Zagreb meeting is the latest stop of the “pilgrimage of trust on earth.” How have you chosen the country that will host the next stage?
Brother Alois: Every year we wonder where this pilgrimage should continue, and we have tried to alternate between East and West.
But beyond this, we also have to take into consideration the need for a conference center big enough for us all to meet.
We have thought of organizing a meeting in Latin America next year. I will announce the exact place to young people during our meeting in Zagreb. And later we will try to live an experience of this kind in Africa.