New departure in Taizé towards an ecumenism of solidarity

 — Aug. 25, 201525 aoüt 2015
By Esther R. Suter

In Taizé, the week-long Gathering for a New Solidarity, for solidarity with the poor and excluded, reached its climax on the weekend of 15-16 August. The ecumenical community is celebrating in 2015 the seventy-fifth anniversary of its foundation by Roger Schutz, as well as the one hundredth anniversary of his birth (on 12 August 1915). Also 16 August was the tenth anniversary of his death. Brother Roger was stabbed during prayer in the church by a mentally unstable woman from Romania. For the first time in its history, all hundred brothers of the Taizé community came together from all over the world.

The worship celebrations began on Saturday in the open air just outside the village. The new Orthodox Icon of Mercy was then carried in a solemn procession through the village into the Church of Reconciliation. Prior Alois Löser, who was himself designated by Brother Roger as his successor in the community, led the procession of the brothers in their white robes, followed by thousands of young people from all continents, as well as the invited experts (members of the European Parliament, of non-governmental organizations, Muslims, Buddhists, people from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East). During the week they had all been intensively involved in workshops on the themes of inter-faith dialogue, migration issues, the environment, the economy, justice, politics, health, as well as spirituality, the life of faith, and art. Speakers from human rights organizations and church leaders showed how it is possible to have encounters with people who are ‘different’, with strangers, and to reach out across all frontiers of nationality, confession and religion, to work together to change and move on from violent situations of conflict so as to form one family of humankind. Many of them were examples of the biblical concept of ‘hospitality’ as a force enabling one to open up to refugees and accept them as fellow human beings.

Brother Alois spoke of a globalization of solidarity, which many, especially young people, long for worldwide, and in which the Taizé community stands with them. The lively workshops of the week on the themes of joy, simplicity and mercifulness, the quality of the discussions and the openness of the encounters lacked nothing of what was seen at the inauguration of the Council of Youth some forty years earlier. Brother Roger’s spirit lives on and his lifelong commitment to Christian unity and reconciliation in the family of humankind is still bearing fruit. Young people feel that they are accepted just as they are and surmount all their prejudices as they encounter one another. Taizé has remained true to itself in its simplicity, spirituality and quest for unity.

For the celebrations on the Sunday some hundred top church representatives travelled to Taizé for a reception by the community, and to share in the open air worship service later in the day. Messages of greeting were given. Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, read out the message from Pope Francis. Pope Francis highlighted Brother Roger’s significance for the ecumenical movement: while holding on to his Protestant origins, he had shown himself open to the various Christian traditions and by his lifelong persistence had contributed to changing relationships between still divided Christians, in that he had for many pointed the way forward to reconciliation. The World Council of Churches General Secretary, Revd Olav Fykse Tveit likened the WCC’s 2013 call to an Ecumenical Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace to Brother Roger’s call to a Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth. Pilgrimage, he said, is an image of the ecumenical movement. The Very Revd Karin Burstrand, from Sweden, spoke as a Vice-President of the Conference of European Churches (CEC). Among other messages, Revd Martin Hirzel, representing the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), also brought greetings from the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, and stressed the significance of Taizé for reconciliation in Europe after the Second World War.

Both Cardinal Kurt Koch and General Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit had a similar approach to the migrant crisis in Europe. According to them, the generally slow moving political process in Western countries, and also in Russia and China, could be more effective. A narrowness of vision was detracting from the urgent need to find solutions. The wider context of the migrant situation needed also to be taken into account, such as the causes of the flood of migrants and the situation in Africa. That presented a challenge to our Christian values, to which further thought must be given in the future.

Esther R. Suter is a theologian, pastor and freelance journalist from Basel, Switzerland, with extensive experience in covering stories about global, regional and local ecumenism.

Posted: Aug. 25, 2015 • Permanent link:
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