For many people the name "Taizé" evokes a certain style of singing that has become popular in more and more churches, retreat centers, campus parishes and even seminaries. For some, the word also suggests gatherings which attract large numbers of young adults. Still others are aware that Taizé is in fact an ecumenical community of brothers located in a small village in eastern France.
Today the Taizé Community is composed of around a hundred brothers. They come from different Christian traditions, from over twenty-five countries and every continent. They make a life commitment to live together in joy, simplicity and mercy as a "parable of community," a sign of the Gospel's call to reconciliation at the heart of the world.
Around the brothers, tens of thousands of people, mainly between the ages of 17 and 30, come each year to spend a week returning to the roots of the Christian faith. They join in the community's worship three times a day, listen to Bible introductions on the sources of the faith, spend time reflecting in silence, and meet in small sharing-groups. Spending a week listening to people one's own age from countries as diverse as Lithuania, Canada, the Philippines and Portugual, all of whom are sharing deeply about their searching and their struggles to live out their faith, can be a life-transforming experience for those who take part. And the community encourages participants to return home and to take back what they have discovered and put it into practice in the concrete conditions of their life their parishes, their work or study, their families. There has never been any question of creating a "Taizé movement" or any formal structure which might get in the way of people's commitment at home.
Taizé began with one man, Brother Roger. In 1940 he came to what was then a semi-abandoned village in Burgundy, the region his mother's family had originated from. He was 25 years old, and he had come there to offer shelter to political refugees, notably Jews fleeing the Nazi persecution, and to work out a call to follow Christ in community, a community that would attempt to live the Gospel call to reconciliation day after day. A few years later he was joined by his first brothers and in 1949, several of them committed themselves for life to celibacy and to material and spiritual sharing. Taizé thus took its place as part of the great monastic family.
Life at Taizé, following the monastic tradition, has always turned around three main axes prayer, work and hospitality. The three times of prayer provide the basic rhythm of the day. It is a very meditative form of prayer in which singing and silence have always played a large part. Since 1962 this worship has taken place in the Church of Reconciliation, recently more than doubled in size to accommodate the increasing numbers of visitors, especially from Eastern Europe.
The community has always supported itself by its own labor, refusing any donations for its own life, even family inheritances. If this leads to a certain simplicity of lifestyle, that is yet another way to make the Gospel apparent, to focus on the essential. In addition, for a long time now some of the brothers have gone to live in situations of poverty and division throughout the world, as a concrete sign of solidarity. Today, there are brothers living, praying and working in Africa, Asia and North and South America. From 1962 on, brothers began visiting Eastern Europe, to be close to those who were trapped within their borders.
Taizé has always been a place of welcome for victims of war and injustice. If during World War II that meant political refugees, afterwards it meant French war orphans and German prisoners-of-war. In later years, the community has offered a haven to Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Rwandan and Bosnian families uprooted from their lands. But for the past thirty years, a more short-term welcome has been extended to young adults from practically every country in the world and from a great many different church backgrounds or from none at all. Adults come too, and families with little children, so that no one is excluded. Since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Central and Eastern Europeans have made up a significant percentage of those present in Taizé each week.
What attracts so many young people to Taizé? This question keeps on recurring, and the brothers have no answer. Those who come are very different among themselves, but all are searching searching for meaning, for commitment, or for a deeper relationship with God in prayer, for a chance to meet other Christians their own age, for an experience of community rooted in the Gospel. Many are active in churches at home; others find it difficult to find a church where they feel welcomed and listened to. "What can we offer them? How can we help them to find ways of continuing their journey of faith, of being creators of reconciliation in the places where they live?" It was this question of continuity that led the community to launch, together with the young, a "pilgrimage of trust on earth" involving meetings and visits on every continent.
In the context of this "pilgrimage," large gatherings regularly bring together many in the churches of Europe and the other continents. At the end of 1994, over 100,000 young adults from throughout Europe met in Paris for five days of prayer and sharing; they were offered hospitality by churches and families in Paris and the surrounding area. Such meetings were previously held in such cities as London, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Rome and Munich. Similar events have taken place in 1995 in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1992 in Dayton, Ohio, USA, in 1991 in Manila, and in 1988 in Madras, India.
Church leaders come to Taizé as well. On October 5, 1986, the community welcomed Pope John Paul II. As he said in his address to the young people present, "Like yourselves, pilgrims and friends of the community, the Pope is just passing through. But you pass through Taizé as you pass close to a spring of water." In August 1992, Dr. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, spent a week in Taizé with 1000 young Anglicans from all the dioceses in England. Since then, other church leaders have followed his example in coming to Taizé with their young people.
Intercontinental Meetings and Retreats in Taize
Throughout the year, it is possible to come to Taizé for a week of prayer, personal reflection and sharing with others from around the world. Plan to arrive on Sunday and stay till the following Sunday. Accommodation is very simple: there are beds for adults, but space is limited so it is best to write in advance. Everyone is asked to contribute a modest amount to defray the costs of meals and lodging. For additional information and to announce your coming, write to Taizé in France at the address below (you can write in English).
Taizé is located in eastern France, southwest of Paris, north of Lyons, due west of Geneva, Switzerland, between the towns of Chalon-sur-Saône and Macon.
Taize Community, 71250 TAIZE, France
To contact Taize: firstname.lastname@example.org
To visit Taize: email@example.com
List of useful info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: http://www.taize.fr
Telephone: 0033 385 50 30 02 Fax: 0033 385 50 30 16
The Cathedral of Hope