Grace and peace to you

In 1941 a 26 year old named Roger wrote: “The defeat of France awoke powerful sympathy. If a house could be found there, of the kind we had dreamed of, it would offer a possible way of assisting some of those most discouraged, those deprived of a livelihood; and it could become a place of silence and work…” As Gonzalez Balado explains the house they dreamed of: “A house to live the essentials of the Gospel with others – a new reality. France it must be, a land of wartime suffering but a land of inner freedom.”

So, Roger went looking for a house in the poor areas of France. In the tiny town of Taizé he was given a simple meal from an old woman who, after hearing Roger tell of his idea, said: “Stay here with us; we are so poor, so isolated and the times are so bad!” He stayed.

Roger’s first task was to offer hospitality to refugees from the war – many of them Jews fleeing to Switzerland for safety. In 1942 his house of hospitality was taken over by the Gestapo and he had to go home to Geneva. Yet after the war he returned with his first brothers; and one of his first tasks was to care for German prisoners of war – which was far from popular at the time! They did so while keeping a simple rule of life:

Throughout your day let work and rest be quickened by the Word of God.

Keep inner silence in all things and you will dwell in Christ.

Be filled with the spirit of the Beatitudes: Joy, simplicity, mercy.

In 1948 Roger received permission to use the local Catholic Church in the area – the first non-Catholics to be allowed to do so. No doubt inspired by his grandmother who during the terrible conflict between Protestant and Catholics who, as a Protestant, used to worship regularly at the local Catholic church showing all that “we are all one”. Later Brother Roger and a few others from Taizé were the only non-Catholics to be invited by Pope John to attend the 2nd Vatican Council.

This brief history shows how Br. Roger and Taizé became a community that consistently crossed divides for decades – especially during the cold war between Eastern and Western Europe. Each year literally hundreds of thousands of young people between the ages of 15 and 30 would make a pilgrimage to Taizé to practice prayer, seek silence and meet with people otherwise divided by an Iron Curtain. Taizé would play a huge, yet hidden (humble) role in the Velvet Revolution of the late 80s inspired by many who had Taizé in their spirits…

Just over a week ago Taizé held a Pilgrimage of Trust in Cape Town – drawing around 2000 young people into silence, prayer and community. It did not make any headlines. Jesus stuff seldom does because most often it is impossible to measure – and we live in a world that says if you can’t measure it then it is probably meaningless. But let it be known that the future of our land and continent will be nudged towards freedom and justice because of what was silently planted in the lives of young people last week.


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