Friday, August 19, 2005

Brother Roger, 90, Dies; Ecumenical Leader :: NYT

A great man who stooped down to lift the world up has died. May those he inspired not lose faith in his message of hope. May the Taize community he founded live on.

Quoting the NYT article:

Brother Roger, the Swiss Protestant theologian who in 1940 founded a community of monks in Taizé, in eastern France, that became a worldwide ecumenical movement, died there on Tuesday. He was 90.

Brother Roger was stabbed in the throat during an evening service in his church by a woman who was attending the ceremony. He died almost immediately.

With his group of monks - including Lutheran, Anglican, Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox members - he sought to create greater unity among Christian churches, but his focus above all was to awaken spirituality among the young people in Europe who were growing up in a secular world.

Before the fall of Communism, he and his group had quietly created prayer circles among Catholics in Poland and Hungary and Protestants in East Germany that proved influential during protests in those countries. The Taizé prayer groups with their message of peace and conciliation eventually also reached into the United States - he has followers in New York - as well as Canada, Brazil, South Korea and elsewhere.

He became well known as both a mystic and a realist, a man with a humble personal style who was able to attract tens of thousands of followers. He also became a driving force behind the annual World Youth Day, being held this week in Cologne, Germany.

The Taizé center and Brother Roger drew tens of thousands of pilgrims a year. Although he was seen by many as a guru, he preferred to use the phrase, "My brothers and I want to be seen as people who listen, never as spiritual masters."

The French police said yesterday that they had taken into custody a 36-year-old woman from Romania who admitted to stabbing the monk with a knife she bought a day earlier. The woman, whose name was withheld, is to undergo psychiatric examination, the police said.

Religious and political leaders across Europe, many of whom had met Brother Roger, reacted with shock to his violent death.

Pope Benedict XVI, who knew Brother Roger personally, said at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo yesterday that the "sad and terrifying" news "strikes me even more because just yesterday I received a very moving and very friendly letter from him."

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the head of the Church of England, said, "Brother Roger was one of the best-loved Christian leaders of our time."

Brother Roger was born Roger Schutz on May 12, 1915, in Provence, a small town in Switzerland, the son of a Swiss Calvinist pastor and a French Protestant mother. After studying theology at the University of Lausanne, he and a group of friends concluded that it might be possible to avert war in Europe if Christians could unite. He left in 1940 for the Burgundy region, where he bought a house in the village of Taizé, not far from the Roman Catholic Abbey of Cluny. He and a small group of theologians and friends gathered there and, among themselves, took monastic vows.

During World War II, even before the group became known as a community, the monks hid refugees, including Jews and resistance fighters. Although they were forced to leave by the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, the community moved to Geneva and quietly grew. There Brother Roger and other theologians first set out their principles: "to pursue joy, simplicity and compassion."

They were able to return to Taizé in 1944.

Although Brother Roger once said they only wanted to be a community of 15, the Taizé group now includes close to 100 monks from more than 20 countries. Its following grew rapidly during the 1980's and 90's, above all because of his special appeal to young people.

1 comment:

Ginny said...

I've been very sad about Brother Roger's death this week; we've done a few Taize' services in the past for joint Lenten with other small Episcopal churches in the area, and I hope that for our next joint service (around the time of All Saints) that there will be a Taize' portion).