Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
August 29, 2005
May Br. Roger's peace live on
We mourn the tragic death of Brother Roger Schutz, one of the great witnesses to ecumenism and reconciliation of the 20th century. Although not as famous as them, Brother Roger deserves to be remembered with Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Thomas Merton as religious figures whose lives spoke eloquently of humanity's quest for the non-violent pursuit of justice and peace.
His murder is the same fate that befell both King and Gandhi, a disturbing end for those who made non-violence their watchword. Unlike those two, however, Brother Roger was primarily a spiritual leader, one who had no political agenda.
But have no question. Breaking down the barriers among cultures and religions and nations was his over-arching goal.
In 1940, Roger Schutz, the son of a Lutheran pastor, bought a house and small farm in the tiny village of Taize in the impoverished and war-ravaged Burgundy area of France. His goal was to provide welcome to those who came in need of help, especially Jewish refugees.
For a few years, he worked alone, praying also for some brothers to join him. Eventually, three did. A Protestant monastic community of work, silence and prayer began to be established. Many others followed. In 1969, the first Catholic joined the group and, a year later, the first Catholic priest. Something previously unheard of was happening at Taize.
Young people began to come too - small numbers in the 1950s, but numbers that grew rapidly until in 1974, Taize hosted a Council of Youth with 40,000 people from 100 nations. The simple, unvarnished living out of the Gospel attracted young people.
The influx of foreign visitors led the brothers to try to adapt their common prayer to an international audience. They began to produce Scripture-based Latin chants whose slow, meditative cadence encouraged meditation. Today, some of those chants are sung in Catholic churches around the world.
But if it is the music which has made Taize renowned, it is the joy and simplicity of the Beatitudes that are the heart of the community's witness. It is a merciful God the brothers preached, a God who calls us constantly to forgiveness and reconciliation.
"God is never a tormentor of the human conscience," Brother Roger said when he came to the World Council of Churches assembly in Vancouver in 1983. "God does not want us to be dragged down with guilt, but filled with trust and forgiveness."
In a world of anxiety and tension, Brother Roger saw inner silence as essential to prayer. For the Gospel to live, Jesus must find a home in the silent place of the human heart.
But Taize spirituality was not an escape from the world. It was engagement through prayer, because Brother Roger saw that prayer was what the world most needed. If there is unforgiveness in human hearts, society itself will be broken too. So, the brothers formed communities of presence in some of the world's most broken people - the slums of Calcutta, Hell's Kitchen in New York.
The brothers were driven by the belief that humanity can live in harmony despite religious and cultural differences. Theirs was a powerful ecumenical witness of always welcoming the stranger, always bringing together people of widely varied backgrounds.
The Taize dream of universal reconciliation was not realized in Brother Roger's lifetime. It is unlikely that he thought it would be. But although the goal has not been realized, the quest will go on.
The shameful slaying of Brother Roger will not kill Taize: it gives it greater reason to live. The world needs its prayerful and active witness of mercy and forgiveness. We all need the peace that only God can give.
- Glen Argan
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