Only days before the death of Brother Roger on August 16 during the evening service in Taizé 19 pilgrims from the Diocese of New Westminster prayed and sang with him on the very spot where he died.
This was our third youth pilgrimage. Since 2001 dozens of young people from across the Diocese have made the journey to a small rural village on a hilltop in south-eastern France to be part of the miracle of Taizé.
You are probably familiar with the music: simple, melodic chants sung over and over in a mantra-like style, usually of a biblical verse or a short prayer, with a mystical quality of deep beauty and peacefulness. Churches across the world have turned to Taizé in the last few decades in search of a modern form of devotional music easily accessible to spiritual seekers and veterans alike.
It’s in the monastic community itself, however, where the music really comes alive. Taizé is home to 100 brothers from every corner of the world - uniquely both Catholic and Protestant - whose work consists of prayer three times a day in the large concrete basilica that spans the campsite where thousands of young people join them each day. The experience is like touching the face of God. Taizé is one of the few places on earth where one is moved to tears in an instant by the beauty of its worship.
There is no security. Why would there be? Taizé is a place where people come in search of relief from a violent world, from the corruptions of consumerism and the daily grind of meaninglessness. In its 65 years of existence, millions of people - particularly young people - have sought refreshment here from the disenchantment and cynicism of societies run by adults.
(Adults can only go to Taizé in the summer time if accompanied by a youth.)
Many of these young people in recent years have come from eastern Europe, where they grew up learning that no one in authority ever tells you the truth, and from societies bitterly divided by ancient conflicts. In Taizé they are welcomed and become part of a reconciled community in which goodness, joy and kind-heartedness is deeply entrenched as a spiritual culture.
The Romanian woman who murdered Brother Roger in the church simply stepped over a little box hedge that separates the brothers from the thousands of worshippers. At the age of 90, his custom was to attend evening prayer only, and he was always surrounded by young children, aged 6-10, from the village nearby whom he invited to sit with him to learn the solace and power of worship. The trauma for them of witnessing his death must be indescribable. They attended his funeral, days later, given special seats of honour next to his coffin.
|Bishop Michael Ingham with Brother Roger Schulz this summer at Taizé|
Many have commented on the irony of Roger’s violent death after committing his life to peace and reconciliation. It seems to be part of the world’s tragedy, and the fate of God’s saints. And yet, as always and throughout the centuries, his death will not extinguish the light that shone through him. A true and powerful light it was, as New Westminster’s pilgrims will attest.
A deep peace and tranquility emanated from the man. He was a magnet for millions. He spoke with a directness and simplicity of the things of God touching the human heart that silenced even the noise and busy-ness of adolescence. Before we left, he blessed us. It is a gift we will never forget.
My guess is, the brothers will not want increased security at Taizé. They will want to continue as a witness to the trust in God that forms their vocation. The place where he died has become holy ground, purified by blood, but I doubt it will be turned into a martyr’s shrine. The holiness of Taizé is not a piety divorced from the world. It is a place where the world is prayed for in all its hope and promise and harsh reality. They are neither naive nor cynical. A most unusual place.
One rarely meets an individual luminous with Christ. But this was Brother Roger. I find myself holding on to his joy, to his hopefulness and love, and to the memory of his clear blue eyes that warmed me as I spoke with him only days before he left us.
The Rev. Kevin Dixon, rector of St. Mary’s Kerrisdale, Vancouver, then on sabbatical, was in France and went to Taizé for Brother Roger’s funeral on August 25. His account can be found on page 13 of the Anglican Journal or on their website, www.anglicanjournal.ca.