Church leaders pay tribute to Br Roger of Taize
posted on 17 October 2005
The Archbishops of Westminster and Canterbury were among those paying tribute to the slain founder of Taizé during an emotional candle-lit service of thanksgiving at Westminster Cathedral last Friday night.
Brother Roger, founder and prior of the ecumenical monastic community in Burgundy, was stabbed to death before hundreds of horrified onlookers while at prayer on 16 August 2005. The killer was a deranged woman.
The Cathedral seating was re-arranged in a circle to accommodate the two-hour ecumenical and multilingual vigil, which was filled with the Community’s distinctive chants as well as silent reflection. Two enormous icons, borrowed from the Coptic Orthodox Community, flanked the sanctuary.
The service was co-ordinated by the executive officer of Churches Together in England, the Revd Mark Fisher. Among those taking part were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, the Moderator of the Free Churches, Revd David Coffey, and Bishop Basil of Sergievo, representing the Orthodox Churches.
Prayers were led by the Sisters of St Andrew, whose order supports the work of the brothers in Taizé.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who is in Rome attending the Synod of Bishops, sent a message which was read by Mgr John Arnold, the Vicar-General of Westminster Diocese.
“I have always had the greatest admiration for Br Roger and for the Taize Community,” the Cardinal wrote. He described a pilgrimage there in the company of the former Bishop of Guildford, Michael Adie. “It was a very moving event in which I experienced personally the stillness, the prayer, the Christian praise and thanksgiving that drew all Christians together in the spirit of unity and peace.”
The Cardinal added:
“Br Roger’s long life has been an inspiration to many and it is right that now, in our own country, we should give thanks to God for his life and witness and ministry, especially to the young people who revered him so much.”
Dr Williams said that Br Roger was an icon of brotherhood in the same way as Pope John Paul II was an icon of fatherhood and Mother Teresa an icon of motherhood.
Taize began in 1940, when Roger Schutz, a Swiss Protestant, went to live in a small Burgundian village just a few miles from the demarcation line which cut war-time France in two. Br Roger hid Jewish refugees fleeing the occupied zone.
After the war a mixed Catholic and Protestant community of monks was born. At the end of the 1950s, it began to be visited by young people, who were sent by the monks on reconciliation visits to countries behind the Iron Curtain.
Today, Taizé is made up of more than 100 brothers from more than 25 nations. The Community, which is famous throughout the world for its distinctive melodic chants, attracts tens of thousands of young people each year.
Br Roger, who was in his nineties when he was killed, was revered by young people as a symbol of love and peace.
A prayer which was read in Taize on the morning after Br Roger’s death was read at Friday’s service by Bishop Basil of Sergievo:
“Christ of compassion, you enable us to be in communion with those who have gone before us, and who can remain so close to us. We entrust into your hands Brother Roger. He already contemplates the invisible. In his footsteps, you are preparing us to welcome a radiance of your brightness.”
A small group of placard-waving Lefevbrist protestors stood outside the Cathedral at the beginning of the service, objecting to what they described as “false ecumenism”.