During World War II Roger Schütz, later known as Brother Roger, started to intensively think how life conducted in accordance with the Scriptures and in the spirit of early Christians might look like. As a result of his reflection, the Taizé community was born.
In 1940, he purchased a little house with the outlying buildings in the village in northern France (Taizé), close to the demarcation line dividing France in two. Soon, he began to shelter refugees who were fleeing the war. Even though they had very limited resources, and many difficulties, including the need to move to Geneva because of the probability of being denounced, their determination to create a place of peace didn’t diminish.
After the war, there was a huge need to take care of the children who lost their parents. Brother Roger asked his sister Genevieve to come to Taizé to help with them, and she agreed. Everyone always felt welcome there – Jews and German former prisoners of war were able to live together. The community grew rapidly. Some young men decided to become “Taizé brothers,” and even though they came from different Christian denominations, they worked and prayed together every day.
They pray particularly for peace. Every year, thousands of people from all over the world, especially those who are young, come to Taizé to experience its atmosphere of “fraternity”. Since the church is too small to accommodate such numbers, there is a possibility to open its walls, and those who normally would be sitting outside, are able to equally participate.
One of the visitors was Pope St. John Paul II. During his visit, he said:
Like you, pilgrims and friends of the community, the pope is only passing through. But one passes through Taizé as one passes close to a spring of water. The traveller stops, quenches his thirst and continues on his way (…) Today in all the Churches and Christian communities, and even among the highest political leaders in the world, the Taizé Community is known for the trust always full of hope that it places in the young. It is above all because I share this trust and this hope that I have come here this morning.
Brother Roger was a close friend of John Paul II, who highly valued his ecumenical involvement.
Some may know Taizé because of the yearly meeting called “The Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth” which takes place in different European cities with thousands of young people attending. They come to know each other, participate in workshops, and share the meals together. The most important part of the program are characteristic prayers enriched by Eastern traditions such as icons and candles. The chants are sung in many languages and they emphasize simple phrases, usually lines from Bible pieces, repeated and often sung in canon.
In Taizé, it is very natural to feel like a long-awaited guest. Although the pilgrims are so different from each other, sitting in a big church they can easily feel that what they have in common is much bigger. And singing “Laudate omnes gentes” with people from different nations is a truly powerful experience.