Rev. Kevin Dixon, of the diocese of New Westminster, is on sabbatical in Europe. He attended the funeral of Brother Roger Schutz, founder of the Taize community in France, and wrote of his experience in the form of a letter to a friend. Just a postcard from Europe, in the midst of my travels, to share a remarkable experience.a? On Aug. 23, I was one of more than 10,000 people who attended the funeral of Brother Roger at Taize in Burgundy.
How horrified I had been, just a week earlier, to hear the news of his fatal stabbing during worship. This was a man whose life was dedicated to peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. Now those inspired by him were being asked to forgive the disturbed woman who ended his life.
Since he came to Taize in 1940, Brother Roger’s ministry has touched generations of young spiritual seekers. For this reason, in the shadow of his death, many of them returned to honour him. What a sight as the throng gathered in and around Taize’s Church of Reconciliation – the very place where he died.
It was raining hard on the day of the funeral. When I arrived three-and-a-half hours before the 2 p.m. service time, cowering under my umbrella, I took my place on the ground in a gravel parking lot with a good view of a huge video screen.
People began sharing pieces of plastic, jackets and hot drinks. All around, people were praying and singing and eating damp sandwiches. A group of three French youth sitting behind my wife and me, along with a university professor from Lyons, and a young Englishwoman, became friends.
Brother Roger’s life was about something more important than establishing a place of pilgrimage for youth, although they came by the thousands. The hallmark of his life’s work, engraved on the hearts of youth at Taize, was the message that the Christian faith gives hope.
Brother Aloise, the new leader of Taize, underlined this theme in his opening remarks: “Often Brother Roger said: ‘God is united to every human being without exception.’ Brother Roger constantly returned to that gospel value which is kind-heartedness. It is not an empty word, but a force able to transform the world, because, through it, God is at work. In the face of evil, kind-heartedness is a vulnerable reality.”
Then worship began in the unique style of Taize. Thou-sands of voices harmonized in many languages expressing grief, forgiveness, the hope of resurrection, and love.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, presided at the eucharist. It was beautifully characteristic of Taize that there were no dogmatic barriers to receiving communion.
At the end of the service, Brother Roger’s plain wooden coffin was carried out of the church and down the road to the village cemetery. As the procession passed wax tapers were lit and we chanted, in Latin, “Render thanks to the Lord. Alleluia.”