A Pilgrimage of Trust: New Years with Taizé

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Nestled in the gold and mist of the Burgundian countryside in southeast France sits the idyllic little village of Taizé, where over one hundred vowed religious brothers from various nations and denominations live together as a sign of Christian reconciliation in the heart of the World Church. Taizé is about trust, and trust is costly. A desire to trust and be trusted led Brother Roger to establish the Taizé community during the years of the Second War, when he welcomed refugees and sheltered Jews from the wrath of an untrustworthy world. Trust urged Brother Roger, the son of a Swiss Reform minister, to place himself in the midst of Christian diversity so he could be both a student and teacher of God’s expanding work in the World Church. The trust of Brother Roger eventually cost him his life when, in 2005, he was murdered by a woman who (according to the psychologist who analyzed her) simply could not mentally cope with the challenging light of his life.[1]

Thousands of young people visit Taizé each year in search of trust, and they must find something or they wouldn’t keep coming back. In 1977 the Taizé community initiated what has become known as it its annual “European Meeting,” a “pilgrimage of trust on earth”[2] during which thousands of young people are invited to carry Christ’s message of peace and reconciliation to a different European city. In recent years the pilgrimage has been taken to Poznan, Brussels, Zagreb, Geneva, etc. Next year it will be in Berlin; this year it was in Rotterdam.

30,000—that’s how many young pilgrims gathered in Rotterdam two weeks ago to sing and pray in the new year. We (I was among them) gathered to share with the world, our various churches and each other, that trust as a living reality can be experienced anywhere, so long as Christ is present. Trust opens doors, takes down walls of nationalism and denominationalism while not destroying the gifts that arise from those diversities. Trust, like love, is not proud or rude, but it always hopes and protects. And thank God, it always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13).

We were together in Rotterdam for five days, spread out in groups and hosted by generous families in over one hundred parishes across the city—Calvinist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Orthodox, etc. I don’t know if any Adventist churches participated, but I hope so. I was randomly assigned to the historic Pilgrim Church at Delfshaven, where in 1620 dozens of “religious refugees” boarded the Speedwell (later transferring to the Mayflower) and set sail for a new life and liberty in America. I found it moving that a parish so deeply shaped by the pain of spiritual intolerance would open its heart to our ecumenical idealism, walking with us for five days to teach a new generation what it means to trust again.

We held our morning prayers and small Bible groups each day at the Pilgrim Church before dispersing for lunch, the afternoon prayer, workshops, supper and the evening prayer at “Ahoy,” a large conference and sports center in the city (it had to be big to hold 30,000 people!) My Bible group was comprised of four Poles, two French, two Romanians, one Italian, and myself, so patience and the ability to listen carefully were the prerequisites enabling us to communicate effectively with one another. I found myself wishing that I was better at learning such virtues while sharing with brothers and sisters across ideological lines, not just national ones. I am certain that trust will grow that capacity within me and within all those who desire it.

The offering of afternoon workshops was impressive and included discussions on the spiritual life, sharing from organizations such as L'Arche, and programs led jointly by prominent Christian leaders in Europe from various traditions. Our times of prayer, of course were the best and most beautiful part of our pilgrimage. How do you get 30,000 people of different language groups and Christian affiliations to pray together? That is a question the brothers of Taizé have been wrestling with ever since young people started flocking to their community in the sixties. Although the brothers have tried many things over the years, these days they pray through music, namely the singing of songs or short repetitive chants that paraphrase gospel realities or simple lines from scripture:

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Nothing can ever separate us from the Love of God revealed to us in Christ Jesus.

Our darkness is never darkness in your sight; the deepest night is clear as the daylight.


Young pilgrims learn these songs quickly and in a variety of languages. A glance at the index of my 2007 edition of the Taizé songbook lists chants in forty-five different languages, including Japanese, Khmer, Tagalog and Zulu. Something powerful happens to the spiritual imagination when the words of scripture are allowed to penetrate both heart and intellect through repetition that is anything but “vain.” After singing “Into your hands, Lord, I commit my spirit” three times a day for five days in Rotterdam, I found myself really praying that prayer with Jesus—really meaning it.

Those readers who are immediately suspicious while reading this need not speculate about Taizé’s relationship to the Catholic Church. Brother Roger never became a Catholic, but in Rotterdam I sat with Catholic nuns and monks in habits of all colors. In a line most Adventists will find extraordinary, Brother Roger once said, “I found my own identity as a Christian by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith without breaking fellowship with anyone.” That may scare the socks off some Spectrum readers, but it must be emphasized that Brother Roger did not make this statement or start his community in order to be antagonistic or inflammatory. He did it to be a genuine bearer of peace.

How is it that in "secular" Europe 30,000 young people gathered to pray and be silent together in Rotterdam two weeks ago? That is a question the rest of the world will find much more interesting than the question of Brother Roger’s denominational affiliation. Apparently Brother Roger’s youthful vision of seventy years ago still finds resonance with the youth of today. Most of them have probably not heard of ecumenism, but they know what spiritual one-upmanship is, and they are tired of it. Fear and violence are powerful realities in the outside world and, as Brother Roger himself often noted, they contribute to the “inner contradictions” that exist in our churches and, more personally, within each one of us. A ministry of reconciliation, (2 Cor. 5:18), means not only getting religious traditions to talk to one another, but creating peace in our hearts where we are inwardly at war.

Brother Roger wrote,

When tirelessly the Church listens, heals and reconciles, it becomes what it is at its most luminous—a communion of love, of compassion, of consolation, a limpid reflection of the Risen Christ. Never distant, never on the defensive, freed from all forms of severity, the Church can let the humble trusting of faith shine right into our human hearts.[3]


Are we ready to participate in a life-long pilgrimage of trust? I hope so.

Brother Roger : What we didn't know from Taizé on Vimeo.

[1] Choose to Love: Brother Roger of Taizé: 1915-2005, Presses de Taizé, 2006.
[2] For more about Taizé’s “pilgrimage of trust,” see http://www.taize.fr/en_article58.html
[3] Living for Love: Selected Texts, Presses de Taizé, 2010.

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Rachel Davies edits the spirituality and interviews columns for the Spectrum website.

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