This past summer, fifteen New West youth, accompanied by four leaders, made a pilgrimage to Taizé, a small community nestled in the French countryside, returning to Canada only a few days before the tragic murder of Taizé’s founder, Brother Roger.

We came to this community, as do thousands of young people from Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas every summer, to join in community with over 80 monastic brothers to pray, sing, and meditate in silence three times a day.

Between these daily gatherings, these young people met in large and small groups with their peers to explore bible passages, discuss faith, relate their lives to Brother Roger’s messages, and share cultural traditions.

They ate simple meals, shared in chores, connected with new friends through spontaneous games, or pondered their own faith journey during walks near “The Source,” a spring not far from the church.

What made our youth, and the thousands of others, come to this little village, eat only bread and chocolate for breakfast, and pray three times a day?

“I decided to travel to Taizé because I wanted to make some choices about what to do after graduation,” said Philip Benmore, 17, of St. Hilda’s. “I also wanted to become more connected with my spiritual self.”

Isaac Thorpe, 18, of Holy Trinity White Rock, was curious about the ecumenical aspect of Taizé. “I wanted to see how people from all over the world, with so many differences, could come together and spend a week learning about each other’s lives.”

“After going to Taizé and worshipping with so many other young people, I feel a lot more confident in my faith,” said Joseph Gummadi, 16, of St. Thomas. Jennifer Kuhl, 17 from Christ Church Cathedral, said she “brought back a feeling of communion with people around the world who have made similar pilgrimages to Taizé, and with those people I met when I was there.”

Fifteen-year old Alex Starr of St. Mary’s Kerrisdale was apprehensive about the meditative aspect of Taizé worship: “Before I left, I thought the most challenging part of the trip would be the silence at the service, but as soon as I arrived at Taizé the silence became part of my life and something to search for.”

These silences lasted for up to 15 minutes, and the youth reflected on how they came to appreciate this time. “I was surprised at how easily I adapted to the whole atmosphere,” said Victoria Schmidt, 14, of St. Mary’s. “I found myself completely at peace during the silences in worship.”

Taizé has a unique effect on everyone who goes, and many of the New West pilgrims found themselves changed upon their return to Canada. “I care more about everything,” said Meghan Hafting, 19, from St. Edwards. “I see the beauty of the world, and not just the destruction…I brought back the idea of togetherness, and most importantly, Brother Roger’s message of trying to bring a future of peace.” Alison Bailey, 19, of St. Faith’s found that she “grew a lot in both maturity and faith.”

Although each person’s journey on this pilgrimage was unique, they each came back changed, if even slightly, in some way.

For fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Kessler, the pilgrimage touched her life in many ways: “I went to Taizé because I was searching for something new…what I found was better than I imagined. At Taizé I learned about trust and love, things that are important in faith and in life…this had a huge impact on my life.”

This was the third youth pilgrimage to Taizé from the Diocese of New Westminster. Philip Murray, Youth Ministry Director at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale said “this has been the experience of a life-time. No one who went on this pilgrimage will ever forget their experience in Taizé. This could be one of the most powerful and valuable things our Diocese can do for the spiritual development of our youth.”


Jennifer Kuhl of Christ Church Cathedral with some European friends. (Photos by Samantha Cawker and Philip Murray)

Most of the pilgrims were able to attend a memorial service for Brother Roger at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale on August. 25. We were so privileged to be with this saintly man who founded such a holy place. We are confident that his work will live on, in Taizé and in the lives of all those he touched.

Thanks to everyone who made this pilgrimage a reality.