Taizé - a parable of reconciliation
Fr Andrzej Przybylski talks to Brother Marek, member of the Taizé community
FR ANDRZEJ PRZYBYLSKI: - What is the phenomenon of Taizé?
BROTHER MAREK: - The phenomenon is first of all the young people who have come to Taizé for over 40 years. This phenomenon of the young people's presence on our small hill, in the village lost among the fields of Burgundy, astonishes us. Young people come here all year long. How did it begin? Surely, this was connected with our community, which Brother Roger had founded in 1940. At first he wanted to gather several young men and create a community, which would be totally dedicated to Christians' reconciliation. Brother Roger wanted to dedicate his life to unity. He painfully experienced the division of Christians. He thought that the division was the source of Europe's suffering. He did not want to look at it passively. He regarded the division as a scandal and depravity to the world as well as a hotbed of conflicts. Soon other men joined him. Until the early 1950s brothers lived life of serenity, gathering for common prayers. In the mid 1950s young people began coming to Taizé. The brothers were not enthusiastic about that since they wanted to live communal life and feared that their contemplative lives would be shattered. On the other hand, hospitality was one of the rules of the community. Brothers saw Christ in every visitor. I think that it was this hospitality that made young people come eagerly to Taizé. Brother Roger understood quickly that young people would be his allies and they would not be obstacles but they would mobilise the community to build unity. He saw that young people carried certain kind of evangelical impatience and that they had to strive for reconciliation today because it could be too late tomorrow. Brother Roger convinced his brothers that they should include young people in the phenomenon of Taizé. And so in the 1960s the adventure with young people began for good.
- Today we are grumbling about secularisation of the youth. But young people keep coming to Taizé and look for some form of spirituality. What special things do you propose to young people?
- First of all we propose communal prayer. We also propose them to reflect on the sources of our faith. Consequently, we prepare some circle of themes to choose. We want young people to connect their discovering of the sources of faith with daily life. There are some who spend one week in the group of silence. Young people have various meetings, too. While meeting in small groups they try to understand the Gospel in the contexts of their lives.
- Where does building unity in the community come from?
- The brothers managed to combine the presence of young people with our ecumenical vocation. We invited young people to get to know the fundamental sources of faith. One could not have understood Taizé and nothing important would have happened there with the person of Jesus Christ. We invite young people to meet Jesus. The meeting is not some intellectual discovery or extraordinary formation but it is creating a space of mystery. Then the Holy Spirit himself leads us to discover what is hidden in our hearts. Such a week in Taizé leads us to the sources of our faith and these sources are after all the same for all Christians. In the beginning we were together and afterwards we got divided and we are living in the margin of these sources. There are no methods in Taizé but when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit we discover the mystery of unity. And every week in Taizé is as if the announcement of this unity.
- What does the communal life of brothers look like?
- At present there are about 100 brothers; we come from 30 countries. There are Catholics and members of various Protestant Churches, young and old, worse or better educated. One can see this variety when we meet to pray. Day after day we try to create a parable of reconciliation in this variety, as Brother Roger used to say. This is a big task for every day. We are different and have various characters but our common prayer, three times a day, allows us to abide in unity. We earn our living. Brother Roger defined that in a radical way: we cannot accept any inheritance or offering for the community. Even if we receive something we give it to some charity. We have various workshops in Taizé: we make pottery, enamel goods, we print, some brothers write poetry, paint or make stained glasses. We also do our best to host young people. We do not want to create any movement or structures among them.
- Has Taizé remained the same after Brother Roger's death?
- Naturally, Taizé without Brother Roger is not the same community when he was with us and we could share our concerns and good things with him. After the evening prayer Brother Roger used to stay in the church and meet people. We very much miss this very closeness of his. But Brother Roger never obscured what was most important. I lived almost 30 years next to him and I know that he never promoted himself but showed the essence of the Gospel. Thanks to that he prepared the community to be independent. And Brother Alois, whom Brother Roger had appointed as the next abbot of Taizé, spent many years in the community. Brother Alois became soaked in the personality of Brother Roger. When Brother Roger was so suddenly taken from our community Brother Alois took his place the next day. There was no single prayer without the abbot. Now we are continuing the legacy of our Founder. On that memorable evening young people stayed with us and we experienced those most difficult moments together. Today the number of young people coming here has increased. The capital of their trust extremely mobilises us to preserve and deepen the spirit of Brother Roger. We can even see some acceleration in the life of our community. The young abbot leads an active life; he visited the heads of the Churches, i.e. Pope Benedict XVI and the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches. Brother Alois was at the youth meeting in Calcutta.
- Thousands of young people are preparing to the next stage of the pilgrimage of trust on earth. What is the idea and meaning of the message of the European Youth Meetings?
- We do not want to connect young people only with Taizé. In 1978 we got the idea of the European meetings and took a risk to organise such a meeting in Paris. The youth arrived there and created an atmosphere of prayer and reflection. That was not so obvious in 1968. From the beginning we wanted to encourage young people to return to their local churches so that they felt needed there and found their places in their churches. In Poland this idea was not clearly understood but in Western Europe young people find it difficult to experience the joy of belonging to some Church. These meetings are stimuli for young people to get involved in a community and testify to unity and reconciliation.
- Has the meeting in Zagreb got some unique message?
- Every meeting is different because of the venue and different situation of the local church. Zagreb is not a big city but one can see great joy and involvement of the local church. Croatia experienced war not a long time ago. Although its inhabitants are hesitant about speaking about their experiences we can feel that the wounds are still fresh. People believe that young people will radiate reconciliation and help to heal all these wounds.