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Theological Notebook: Archiving the Martyrdom of Brother Roger of Taize

Stories on the death of Br. Roger of Taizé from the Associated Press, Catholic News Service, and the BBC, along with readers' comments on the latter.

This is the notice I received from the community this morning:
News from Taizé by email
Taizé, 17 August 2005

Frère Roger has entered the life of eternity

During the evening prayer on Tuesday 16 August, in the midst of the crowd surrounding the Community in the Church of Reconciliation, a woman - probably mentally disturbed - struck Brother Roger violently with knife blows. He died a few moments later.

In its sorrow, the Taizé Community thanks all those who are supporting it by their affection and their prayer. On the morning of 17 August, after Brother Roger's death, the following prayer was read in the church:

"Christ of compassion, you enable us to be in communion with those who have gone before us, and who can remain so close to us. We confide into your hands our Brother Roger. He already contemplates the invisible. In his footsteps, you are preparing us to welcome a radiance of your brightness."

The funeral of Brother Roger will take place on Tuesday 23 August at 14.00. Each afternoon, from 15.00 to 19.00, his body is placed in the church of Taizé, so that all who wish may go and meditate close by him.

Eight years ago, Brother Roger designated Brother Alois to succeed him, as the person in charge of the community. Brother Alois has entered straight away into his ministry as servant of communion at the heart of the community.

Taize Religious Community Founder Slain
Aug 17, 2:12 PM (ET)


PARIS (AP) - A Romanian woman slipped into a choir of singing monks during an evening prayer service and fatally slit the throat of the 90-year-old founder of an ecumenical Christian community in the presence of 2,500 horrified pilgrims in Burgundy, authorities said Wednesday.

The slaying Tuesday of Brother Roger in the Church of Reconciliation drew reactions of shock and grief from the pope, the leader of the Anglican Church and worshippers around the world.

"It happened very fast. There were some screams. We turned around. He was wounded," said Brother Emile, who witnessed the killing. "We carried him out of the church so people didn't see the terrible part. ... She slit his throat."

Brother Roger was stabbed at least twice in the neck. Bleeding profusely, he died 15 minutes later in the community house, Brother Emile said.

Tributes to the silver-haired cleric who symbolized dialogue across the Christian world poured in Wednesday to the tranquil Taize Community, snuggled in a Burgundy village north of Lyon.

Pope Benedict XVI, who had received a letter from Brother Roger on Tuesday - the day of the killing - deplored the "very sad and terrifying news." Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Church of England, called it "an indescribable shock."

The Taize Community's Web site was so inundated with messages that it crashed.

Brother Roger, whose surname was Schutz, was born of a Swiss Protestant father and a French Catholic mother. He moved to Taize in 1940 with plans to found a monastery.

He harbored Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, then built the ecumenical Taize Community with a mission to reconcile all denominations of Christians and promote dialogue and peace.

Some 2,500 people - most of them young people - were worshipping in the church when the woman surged toward Brother Roger.

He was among a group of 80 brothers who form the choir, positioned in a rectangle in the center of the church. The attack occurred about 8:45 p.m., some five minutes after the service got started, said Brother Emile.

The 36-year-old intruder had visited Taize for a week in June and was considered psychologically fragile. Brother Emile said they had learned from colleagues that she was "a very sick woman in Romania" who screamed in churches.

"We asked her not to stay," Brother Emile said in a telephone interview. She returned about two days ago, bypassing the reception area.

Romanian media identified the woman as Luminita Solcan, from the northeast city of Iasi.

"She was not among the four pilgrims from Iasi that went to Taize. She did not leave with the blessing of our church, she went by herself," Father Cornel Cadar, a representative of the Iasi Roman Catholic Diocese, told Rompres. "She's a Catholic and from what I know she's been suffering from a mental illness for several years," he added.

On Tuesday night, she jumped a small, symbolic hedge separating the choir from the congregation to join the monks. Brother Emile said brothers thought she might be the mother of one of the children. The attacker offered no resistance when she was grabbed.

The prosecutor in nearby Macon, Jean-Louis Coste, said the suspect had bought the knife the day before and her intentions were clear. Coste said she has been detained for questioning and that a judicial investigation was being formally opened.

"It would appear for now there is little doubt that this was premeditated since she bought a knife the day before and voluntary homicide is manifest," Coste told reporters. He said she had tried for several months to contact Brother Roger and told investigators she was trying to get his attention.

An autopsy was performed on Brother Roger on Wednesday, but results were not immediately made public.

The Taize community appointed 51-year-old Brother Alois, a German Roman Catholic, to succeed its leader, said Brother Emile, acting as spokesman on Wednesday.

Alois, born in Stuttgart, had initially been selected eight years ago by Brother Roger. He arrived in Taize early Wednesday, called back from the huge Roman Catholic gathering under way in Cologne, Germany, known as World Youth Day.

Pilgrims at Taize held an all-night vigil.

"There was lots of emotion last night. At the same time, there was a kind of peace this morning," Brother Emile said.

"Brother Roger died as he lived, praying at the center of his community," said the World Council of Churches. The body's acting secretary general, Genevieve Jacques, said his ecumenical work "has been enormously influential."

Pope Benedict, speaking at a general audience, said that Brother Roger, in his letter to the pontiff, "expressed his desire to come to Rome as soon as possible to meet me and to tell me how the whole community of Taize intends to walk alongside the pope."

Brother Roger was the second recipient of the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1974, a year after Mother Teresa was given the honor.

"When the Nazis occupied France during World War II, Brother Roger, founder and prior (director) of the Taize Community in France, harbored Jewish refugees," the Templeton citation said. "It was typical of Brother Roger's long history of helping the less fortunate."

The Taize community, which the late Pope John Paul II visited in 1986, each year draws some 100,000 people, about 17 to 30 years old.

Brother Roger's funeral was set for next Tuesday.

Pope shocked at slaying of Brother Roger, ecumenical leader
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI said he was shocked and saddened at the slaying of Brother Roger Schutz, founder of the Taize community and one of the world's leading ecumenical figures.

Brother Roger, 90, was stabbed three times in the neck by a Romanian woman during an evening prayer service at the Taize community's headquarters in eastern France Aug. 16. He died soon afterward. Authorities arrested the woman, 36, who was said to show signs of mental instability.

A visibly moved Pope Benedict, in impromptu remarks during his weekly general audience Aug. 17, said he had been given the sad and "terrifying" news that morning.

It was all the more shocking, the pope said, because he had received a "very moving and very friendly" letter from Brother Roger the previous day.

The pope said Brother Roger had written to explain that for health reasons he could not join the pope for World Youth Day celebrations in Cologne, Germany, but would be there spiritually.

"He writes that from the bottom of his heart he wants to tell me: 'We are in communion with you and with those gathered in Cologne,'" the pope said, quoting from the letter in French.

"In his own hand, he writes that 'our community of Taize wants to walk in communion with the Holy Father,'" the pope said.

Brother Roger had met several times with Pope John Paul II, who briefly visited Taize in 1986. Pope Benedict personally greeted Brother Roger when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he celebrated Pope John Paul's funeral Mass in Rome in April.

For many of the pilgrims attending the papal audience, the news also came as a shock. Hundreds of thousands of people, especially youths, have visited the ecumenical monastic community of Taize or participated in its activities.

The pope did his best to comfort them.

"In this moment of sadness, we can only entrust to the Lord's goodness the soul of his faithful servant. We know that from sadness ... will be reborn joy," the pope said.

"Brother Roger is in the hands of eternal goodness and eternal love and has arrived at eternal joy," he said.

Brother Roger, a native of Switzerland and a minister of the Swiss Reformed Church, founded the Taize community in 1940 with three companions. It grew to eventually include more than 100 Anglicans, Lutherans, evangelicals and Catholics from more than 20 countries.

After first arriving in Taize, the group asked the local Catholic bishop for permission to use the village church. It was such an unusual request that the bishop referred it to the papal nuncio in Paris, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII. The archbishop gave his consent and later became a friend of the fledgling community.

Some 20 years later, with tens of thousands of young people coming to Taize annually, the community built the much bigger Church of the Reconciliation. That was the church where Brother Roger was slain as he prayed with about 2,500 people.

Pope John Paul had first met Brother Roger at the Second Vatican Council, where Brother Roger was invited as a non-Catholic expert. As a Polish archbishop, the future pope visited Taize twice.

During his 1986 stop in Taize, Pope John Paul said: "Like you, pilgrims and friends of the community, the pope is only passing through. But one passes through Taize as one passes close to a spring of water."

Many of Taize's visitors are young people, who for a few days or weeks experience a spiritual community life that is far removed from the materialism of many Western societies.

As Brother Roger once wrote: "We know that they have not come here as tourists. If so, they would have come to the wrong address. Most of them have come with one and the same question: 'How can I understand God? How can I know what God wants for me?'"

Since 1978 the Taize community has sponsored a series of large international gatherings of young people. Called a "Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth," the encounter features ecumenical discussion and prayer.

Officials of the community said Brother Alois, a 51-year-old German whom Brother Roger had already named to be his successor, was returning from World Youth Day in Cologne to take up his new duties.

Christian leader stabbed to death
The 90-year-old founder of the French-based Taize Christian ecumenical community has been stabbed to death at a prayer service.

( Police detained a woman after the assault on Swiss-born Roger Schutz, who was known as Brother Roger.

Around 2,500 young people were at the Reconciliation church in Burgundy at the time of the attack.

Brother Roger founded the community during World War II to provide refuge to people of all Christian churches.

Brother Alois, 51, nominated by Brother Roger as his successor, was returning from the World Youth Day jamboree in Cologne to take his place, a community spokesman said.

Taize unites members of several Christian denominations from some 30 countries and attracts tens of thousands of young people each year for prayers and meditation.

Shock and confusion

Some of those at evening prayers on Tuesday are reported to have overpowered a Romanian woman after Brother Roger was stabbed.

The public prosecutor in nearby Macon, Jean-Louis Cost, said there seemed little doubt that the attack was premeditated. He said the woman had bought a knife the day before and "the intention to kill was obvious".

Mr Cost said her explanation was not clear at this stage, but she said she had tried for several months to contact Brother Roger - who was no longer granted private meetings.

He added that he had ordered that a psychiatric examination of the woman be carried out.

Pope Benedict XVI, due to travel to Cologne on Thursday for World Youth Day, said he was particularly dismayed at news of Brother Roger's death as he had received "a moving letter from him" only this week

Brother Roger had written to say he was sorry that he could not attend the celebrations himself because of his ill-health.

The news of the horrific death sent shockwaves through the Christian world:

* German Prelate Heiner Koch said all the participants in World Youth Day were praying for "this great figure"

* The president of the French Bishops' Conference, Archbishop of Bordeaux Jean-Pierre Ricard, expressed "deep grief" for the loss of "this great figure of a researcher and witness of God, impassioned by unity among Christians and reconciliation"

* The Church of England's Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said it was an " indescribable shock" to lose "one of the best-loved Christian leaders of our time"

* The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, who had personal links with Brother Roger, described him as "one of the great visionaries of our time - a man of love and reconciliation who inspired young people all over the world to pray and to know God".

Your comments:
I am deeply shocked and saddened at the news of Brother Roger's death in such terrible circumstances. Taize is a unique place where all Christians can come together regardless of denomination, and be at peace. Brother Roger was an inspiring man who will not be forgotten.

As a Romanian who participated at the Taize gatherings at the church in Bucharest and in several European cities, I am in deep shock. There is a big group of young people in Romania who joined the movement believing in the ecumenical values it promotes, in world brotherhood and universal Christian love. I am sure all of us that found out about this terrible crime are praying for rest of the soul of this wonderful man that brought us all together.
Antoaneta Roman, Montreal, Canada

I am shocked and without words. I too, like so many others, visited Taize as a teenager and again while travelling through Europe while in university. Brother Roger was an inspiration of peace and justice. His work towards reconciliation across many boundaries will continue in the time to come. May the peace of the Lord be with those who mourn.
Kate Emig, OK, USA

I am stunned by this news. I have attended Taize worship in the UK, France, Germany and Belgium, and I was also fortunate enough to be able to spend a few days at Taize itself. But Brother Roger's legacy is not only the community and its worship style, but also his preaching for reconciliation, which was strongly influenced his experiences in the Second World War. I thank God for his life and know that countless others do too.
Andrew, San Francisco, California

So sad. I've been to Taize many times since the first visit in 1974. The place itself has always had a great effect on me and that is wholly down to the man founded it.
Keith Smalldon, Brecon, Powys, Wales

Brother Roger is one of the quiet giants of faith and action in the past hundred years. Taize is a shining witness to unity - the unity of a shared humanity loved by God. Brother Roger and Taize are and will be a gift from God to the world. Thank you, Brother Roger.
Jim Moran, Boston, USA

Brother Roger was indeed was a man of God who knew how to communicate to everyone whatever he had within himself that would never pass away. I'm very sure that he'll remain always in our hearts with his examples of true dialogue with other religions and concrete actions of service to all.
Robert Samson, County Kildare, Ireland

Brother Roger reduced life and religion to its basics, emphasising what in our humanity and religion as Christians we share rather than what divides us. In Taize he created a beacon for the world, 'that little Springtime' as John XXII called it. For him to die in this way and at this time in his life is awful. His legacy is the community he created and the profound effect he has had on the lives of so many people, myself included. Life looks different after Taize. Life will be different without Roger.
Mac, Oxfordshire UK

I visited Taize only a few weeks ago, and despite not being religious I found it a very welcoming and friendly place both times I was there. Brother Roger's ideals of tolerance to everyone, and his vision of people with a similar mindset uniting should be remembered. It is extra tragic that this brutal killing should take place in the Taize Community itself, a place I, and many others, experienced as being safe.
Kor, Maastricht, Netherlands

Shock and a deep, deep sadness lie as a pall over my heart and mind. What an act of madness and cruelty toward a man of such gentle spirit and creative soul. I visited Taize in 1966 when I was 20 years old and was marked by its active community life, its joyful faith, its dynamic worship, and its vision of a church and a world where peace and justice embrace. These realities I tasted will live on in future years as fitting genuine legacies to the vision expressed in words and action by Brother Roger, a man of God.
Douglas Bacon, Vancouver, Canada

I spent two weeks at Taize last year, in part because my 22-year-old son was working there for several months. I had heard a great deal about the ecumenical work of Taize and the great appeal of the community for young people. While there I was deeply impressed by the frail old man who founded Taize, Brother Roger. Despite his physical infirmity he was a powerful presence at worship. When he stopped to bless young people they were often moved to tears. I feel that he will be recognized as one of the great Christian figures of the twentieth century. God be with the world-wide Taize community in its grief.
David Mundy, Bowmanville Canada

No words can express my deep sadness for this servant of God who has helped to heal divisions in the Church. I feel honoured to have been blessed personally by Brother Roger in 1980 when he came to London on a pilgrimage. Without him Taize would have remained an unknown spot on the map instead of the magnet for the youth as it is today. The songs and the style of worship would have remained unknown. May God grant him his place in his Kingdom.
Charles Siu, London

Brother Roger was a great man of God, full of compassion, joy and life. I have visited Taize twice as an adult in the 1990's. It is a truly loving, truly ecumenical place where Christians of all denominations can find love, acceptance and joy. I am deeply saddened that this wonderful, loving man has had his earthly life ended in such horrific circumstances. The world has lost one of it most inspirational Christian servants.
Chris Brock, Kings Lynn, England

Brother Roger has had an enormously positive effect on the life of the church, influencing countless others on the path of reconciliation. I first visited Taize 21 years ago at the age of 16 and found there a vision of community way beyond what I was experiencing in my local church. The international buzz and gently reflective worship, held together in a spirit of real simplicity contributed to one of the most profound stage posts on my spiritual journey, and I will always be grateful for the man we now mourn, who made this possible.
Father Matthew Catterick, Wembley Park

We're shattered by the news of his death. We can't comprehend why someone who did so much to make peace between people should be killed this way. We have been to Taize many times, the way Christianity was celebrated and lived in Taize appeals to us very much. We will remember Frere Roger as the truly inspiring man he was. We will miss him very much. We will pray for the other brothers of the community and hope that they may find consolation in the fact that Roger now is united with his heavenly Father.
Arrie van der Vliet, Didam, Netherlands

We were blessed to have gone to Taize and worshipped with Brother Roger in 2000 and continue to carry with us the piece of heaven we encountered whilst we were there. We send our deepest sympathy for the brothers and uplift them to our Lord over the coming months.
Brigitte & Henry Reich, Australia

I was in Taize for the 5th time last June. I went and knelt before Brother Roger for his blessings. He founded a movement that brings people together and gives us hope and peace in our hearts. I am distraught., but I know he will have a special place in heaven. May he rest in peace.
Leena Ghosh, Malaysia but now in UK

Sadly I have never been to Taize, though members of my congregations over the years have been. All found the place deeply moving, and returned refreshed and renewed. The Taize musical influence has had a profound effect upon worship styles, and offered a rich alternative form of worship which can find a comfortable home in all/most Christian denominations and traditions. I hope that the work of the Community will continue.
Rev Peter B, Mortlock, Bristol

I was truly shocked by the news. I had met Brother Roger in the community of Taize. He was one who radiated peace and holiness and joy around him. He truly worked for Church Unity and was sincerely seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this great task of Unity. May His Soul rest in Peace.
John Berger, Kolkata, India

I visited Taize only once. We attended a mass being said in Polish. It was just after the Eastern Europe had opened up and although I couldn't understand what was being said I found it a very moving experience. Since then I have often attended Taize style worship. I am deeply saddened to hear of Brother Roger's death. He and his community were an inspiration to many. May his legacy be preserved and shared with many future generations.
Helen, Maidstone, UK

Brother Roger has been a true inspiration to me and I have enjoyed so much reading his prayer letters. May he now see all he has hoped for.
Su Brownin, Winchester England

We went to Taize weeks ago with my husband and kids. Although Brother Roger's health was deteriorated, he attended midday and evening prayer every day and that was very touching. When he prayed his words were hard to understand, but the amazing thing is that his words kept the freshness of the first day. He's been a key person in our lives and our little son is named Roger after him. We will always be grateful to him and to his Community for all the good they've done to us. Our heart is broken but love is beyond anything and we will pray for him and the Community.
Celi Palau, Barcelona, Spain

Taize was a marvellous example of what true Christianity can achieve if we put Christ in the centre of our lives. The meetings in European cities and the local Taize meetings in the summer months must have inspired millions of young Christians, and are truly astounding in what can be achieved with low budgets and a few dedicated organisers. I hope and pray that the Taize community will continue to be a shining light of Christianity in this fearful world we live in.
Alan Burns, Stokesley, UK

We have been shocked and saddened by Brother Roger's death, made worse by the terrible circumstances. We have been three times to Taize and each visit has given us immense peace and strength, through the prayers, meditation and music. We have gained lasting friendships from our fellowships there and have many happy memories. Taize has become a part of us and we have been involved in taking Taize services in the UK and here in Botswana. May God's love be with the Community at this time as they try to make sense of what has happened and to continue Brother Roger's amazing work.
Jan and Nigel, Francistown, Botswana

I am very saddened by this news. I stayed at Taize in 1986 and it will always be in my heart and mind one of the greatest signs of the Kingdom of God on earth. I met good people from all over the world all interested in deepening that of God, peace, and love within them and within the world. Brother Roger's vision has born great fruit and he lives on in our hearts. May the grace of God be with all who mourn this loss, especially those gathered now at Taize.
Rick Peterson, Portland, Maine USA

What a sad day for the world. Brother Roger was probably the only exponent and example of a united Christendom. All people must now put aside all divisions and carry forward Brother Roger's ideal. We have lost a truly wonderful and loving pastor. We are bereft.
Barry Rochfort, Assac, France

Brother Roger exuded profound holiness. He was an immense spiritual leader, whose gentle ministry touched the lives of thousands of people. As a young man he blessed me. He asked me if I was a priest. When I replied in the negative, he answered, with a twinkle in his eye, 'you will be!'. He words were not only prophetic - they have given me strength in my daily work as a priest. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
Reverend Ed Tomlinson, Brentwood

I am devastated by the death of Brother Roger. He was a role model for me. I have visited Taize several times and his presence was an inspiring one. I find hard to swallow what happened to him. Let's fight all to build a violence free world.
Christian Gisamonyo , Nairobi, Kenya

Brother Roger was truly a man of God. I remember reading his joint statements with Mother Theresa of Calcutta years ago and deriving so much inspiration from them. I have always wanted to visit Taize and meet him, but now that will never be possible.
Sam, UK

Taize was a marvellous example of what true Christianity can achieve if we put Christ in the centre of our lives. The meetings in European cities and the local Taize meetings in the summer months must have inspired millions of young Christians, and are truly astounding in what can be achieved with low budgets and a few dedicated organisers. I hope and pray that the Taize community will continue to be a shining light of Christianity in this fearful world we live in.
Alan Burns, Stokesley, UK

Brother Roger was above all a man of peace. I visited Taize on many occasions, and find the nature of his death shocking and horrific. Our world is poorer not just because of Brother Roger's death, but by the inhumane final act administered to him. May he rest in peace.
Ollie and Paul, Eastbourne

Deeply shocked by this event. We went with our children when young to Taize. We are sure that Brother Roger is at peace and that many will continue to be influenced for peace and justice by the Community he founded, which we still visit when we can. Our prayers are with them all.
Antony and Sheila Brown, Bristol, England

I only came back from Taize on Monday, and it was still the loving, peaceful community it's always been. I don't understand why anyone would do this.
David Wilson, Coventry, England

I got really sad about what happened to Brother Roger. I've been in Taize last year and in Lisbon in Christmas when Portugal had the pleasure of receiving the Taize community and lots had a great philosophy of life based in love and ecumenism. I hope his spirit lives on.
Neide, Aveiro, Portugal

From first hearing the music of Taize when I was a teenager - to spending time in the community and making good friends there; Brother Roger has helped me to walk closer to Jesus. Thank you for him, and my prayers for Taize this time.
Stu Miller, Bournemouth

Another holy man is struck down in madness. Brother Roger in his words and actions express only love, hope and peace. He has changed the face of Christianity. The Taize prayer community in Victoria which brings together people of many faith communities will be ever grateful for his vision.
Harry, Victoria, Canada

I met Brother Roger last July. I'm shocked. Is this the end of the world. He was the Saint. Why?
Anniina Iivonen, Hameenlinna, Finland

Brother Roger's death is tragic. He spent his life living and preaching reconciliation between people of all nationalities and creeds, beginning in the aftermath of the Second World War - and he has to die like this. The community he founded and the music and distinctive chants associated with it have touched the lives of millions. May he rest in peace.
Ed Hone, Edinburgh

Our thoughts are very much with you at this time. We have been greatly influenced and blessed by Brother Roger's example and prayerful life. We first met each other at Taize. Love and prayers to you all.
Julian and Marie Raffay, Sheffield, UK

I'm shocked beyond words. I'm angry and confused and very sad. What was going on inside this woman's heart? What was she thinking? How deep could her confusion haven been? I have been to Taize several times when I was younger and although my belief system is somewhat non-institutionalised I always enjoyed being part of the Taize community for a few days. I always wanted to return there and I will; but it will not be the same.
Astrid, Cardiff, Wales

I am deeply saddened by brother Roger's death. I am in an Episcopalian church community in Seattle, where many people I know have been to visit Taize in France. I currently am involved in holding Taize services at our church. The music and meditative services have had a deep impact on me. I do not understand what took place, why he was murdered, much less during a service. I don't know what to make of it all. But I hope that the worldwide Taize community can, through time, gain some peace through this. I also hope that the music will become stronger, and that Brother Roger's legacy will continue into the distant future. Theresa La Rue Seattle, WA
Theresa, Seattle, WA, USA
Tags: monasticism, obituary, theological notebook

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