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Aug 23 The Violent death of Brother Roger of Taizé

Today we travel to Taizé in France where today in 2005 the founder of the world famous ecumenical community was buried days after he had been stabbed to death by a 36-year-old Romanian woman in front of 2,500 worshippers during night prayer. The woman had slipped into the middle of the choir of brothers and walked towards him plunging the knife into his neck, he died 15 minutes later.


Police who attended the crime scene, later that night would advise the Brothers to ring the bells to invite the thousands of young pilgrims back for prayer as they were worried of the traumatic effect such an act of violence would have on so many who had witnessed it. The women called Luminita Solcan had arrived in Taizé two days earlier and had gone to the nearby town of Cluny to buy the steak knife even though she told police that said she had only wanted to talk to him, not kill him. She was immediately overpowered by worshippers and in custody it was determined that she was experiencing a paranoid delirium forming part of a schizophrenic psychiatry. She would receive a psychiatric dismissal two years later. Given her psychiatric condition was still considered dangerous, she was interned in a specialized centre in Dijon.

Roger Shultz was the son of a Swiss Protestant pastor and a French Protestant woman, was fascinated by Catholic liturgy in childhood. When he went away to school at the age of 13, his parents allowed him to live with a Catholic woman, with whom he often discussed religion. He studied theology at the University of Lausanne, where he became president of the Association of Christian Students and moved to French village of Taizé during the second World War buying a small house, where he sheltered Jews, political refugees and members of the resistance, but had to flee to Geneva when he was denounced to the Gestapo. Returning to Taizé in 1944 with a handful of "brothers", they took monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Today the community counts 90 members from 20 countries and several branches of Christianity. The annual "youth synods", which Brother Roger started in the late 1960s, were precursors of the World Youth Days started by John Paul II.

Pope John XXIII, to whom Brother Roger was particularly close, called Taizé "this little springtime". When he visited the community in 1986, John Paul II said it was "like walking near a spring". He became a prominent figure for the ecumenical movement and was seated in the front row at John Paul II's funeral Mass. "Cardinal Ratzinger celebrated Mass. He went towards Brother Roger and gave him Communion. This was in front of a worldwide television audience, and surprised many people as Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict, was seen as a strict enforced of Catholic Eucharistic practice which excluded non-Catholics from receiving communion. According to Cardinal Walter Kasper, this was accomplished as though there was a tacit understanding between Brother Roger and the Catholic Church "crossing certain confessional" and canonical barriers through what Brother Roger called a gradual enrichment of his faith with the foundations of the Catholic Church including "the ministry of unity exercised by the bishop of Rome." Brother Roger thus appeared to have undertaken a step without precedent since the Protestant Reformation: entering progressively into full communion with the faith of the Catholic Church possibly without a formal "conversion" that would imply a break with his origins. In 1980, during a European Meeting in Rome, he said in Saint Peter’s Basilica in the presence of Pope John Paul II: I have 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.

The funeral took place on 23 August 2005 and the President of Germany, and Nicolas Sarkozy, at that time Minister of the Interior of France, were in attendance. Thousands of young people travelling back from the Catholic World Youth Festival in Cologne diverted their journey to attend the funeral. Brother Roger's community and friends attended the liturgy in the vast monastery church at Taizé, while thousands more followed it on a huge screen in fields outside the church. Brother Roger's simple wooden coffin, a wooden icon lying upon it, was carried into the church by members of the community. In a highly unusual move, the funeral was presided over by a Catholic cardinal, Walter Kasper, the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who celebrated the Mass with four priest-brothers of Taizé concelebrating. In his homily he said, "Yes, the springtime of ecumenism has flowered on the hill of Taizé . Brother Roger's successor, Brother Alois prayed for forgiveness: "With Christ on the cross we say to you, Father, forgive her, she does not know what she did.

He was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize in 1974. On accepting it he said ' I would go to the ends of the earth, I would go right round the world, to tell and tell again of my trust in the new generation, my confidence in youth. And it is for us, the older generation, to listen, never to condemn. Listen and again listen, to grasp what is finest in the creative intuition that dwells within the young today. They will trace our paths, they will overcome barriers, they will open breaches, to carry the whole people of God along with them. Above all, they will know how to get beyond the demarcation lines that separate believers from one another or that separate believer from non-believer.


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