by Kathryn Lieder
A desire to further explore Taizé prayer beyond the monthly services held on campus inspired a group of thirteen Boston College students and faculty to pursue a pilgrimage to Taizé, France over spring break.
In 1940, Brother Roger Schütz started the ecumenical prayer community in the Burgundy region of France. The reformed Protestant originally bought a small house in Taizé, where he provided shelter to World War II refugees.
That small house, just miles south of the occupied zone of France, over time expanded into a much larger monastery to fit Brother Roger’s vision of a community where young people from all over the world can come together, share their faith, and reflect upon their experiences while being immersed in the simplicity of a monastic lifestyle. The community is now home to over 100 brothers who have devoted their lives to living together in solidarity.
In addition to the brothers, Taizé welcomes young people, mainly ages seventeen to thirty, from all over the world to stay for however long they wish. Some volunteers choose to stay for multiple months or even a year in order to become more deeply integrated into the community and get a taste of whether or not he or she might be interested in becoming a permanent member of the community.
While the group visited Taizé at a relatively quiet time of year, during more popular times of the year, such as Holy Week and the summer months, Taizé often welcomes upwards of two or three thousand young people.
The brothers’ emphasis on simplistic living in solidarity is present in day-to-day life at Taizé. The start of a typical day at the monastery involves a morning prayer service at 8:15 followed by a light breakfast of a piece of baguette, two gum-sized sticks of chocolate, butter, and hot chocolate or tea. Meals at Taizé are simple. Forks, knives, napkins, and cups are not present. The only utensil available is a large metal spoon and small plastic bowls are used instead of cups for water or tea.
The morning, noon, and evening prayer services involve many multilingual songs, sang in a variety of languages including Latin, French, German, Spanish, and Dutch to reflect the immense diversity of the people that flock to Taizé.
During prayer services, a rich chorus of voices fills the church with palpable warmth, a testament to the unity felt in the Taizé community. The prayer services also feature short, simplistic scripture readings read in at least two different languages. Approximately ten to twelve minutes of silence during each prayer service provide important time for individual prayer and reflection.
Monica Oxenreiter, A&S ’16, expressed immense gratitude for the experience and shared, “The simplicity of the lifestyle at Taizé was very different from life at BC. With three very simple meals, daily Bible study groups, and mandatory work shifts each day, which ranged from working in the garden to cleaning toilets, we all participated in the simple life.”
The group was fortunate enough to talk with Brother Emmanuel, a monk who spent many years studying the intersections between psychology and theology.
He said, “A person’s image of God can be a stumbling block for their spiritual journey,” and, “Once we start to distort God’s image and God’s love, we are no longer Christians.”
He stressed that to grow in our faith, we must possess “the desire to be fully coherent with a God that can really love us” because, as he stated, “We are not bad, but wounded.”
The pilgrimage concluded with two days spent in Paris, during which Father Joseph O’Keefe, S.J. led the group on an Ignatian walk around the city following in the Jesuits’ footsteps. The group enjoyed an intimate mass in a church in the Montmartre district where St. Ignatius and his fellow brothers took their Jesuit vows.
On Monday, April 13, the Boston College community will welcome three Taizé brothers to campus, including Brother Emmanuel. The day will involve a Taizé service in St. Ignatius and an enlightening talk with the brothers open to anyone interested in deepening their faith through the boundless wisdom the brothers have to share.
As Brother Emmanuel articulated, “We are looking for a God who can understand our imperfections….We can consent to these imperfections as long as we remember where we came from.”