It took just half an hour to go from Tournus to Taize by coach where, even before we alighted, felt welcomed by the groups of young people waving warmly to us. The mood was set. Brother Paolo appeared to greet us. Despite his name, he is English and one of 100 brothers in the community made up of men from 25 countries speaking 27 languages, living ecumenically and simply.
Despite there being over 3,000 young people present in Taize this week, we were taken to a peaceful garden, where, for the first time on the pilgrimage, we felt the sun on our backs matching the warmth of the welcome. One of Paolo’s roles is to welcome the UK visitors and, although, most of us are far removed from the target audience of 16 – 35-year olds, he seemed pleased to have us in Taize…
We then watched an informative film depicting a typical week long stay in Taize along with two groups of German people. The theme of community continued as each group gave the reason for their trip. Due to the necessity of translation, there was an air of attentive listening and a moving moment when our group were applauded when their translator indicated that we were part of the 48% remainers in the Brexit debate. The applause was spontaneous and heartfelt, as I suspect, was our feeling of sadness and regret over the outcome. So, after being in Taize for less than half an hour, we had experienced what Taize is about – sharing something of ourselves and listening to others’ stories with mutual respect.
Prayer is an integral part of daily life and, despite being too late for morning prayer, we went into the church at noon for the 12.30pm prayer. It felt unusual to have to queue to get in and, even more unusual, to have to queue behind young people. I was struck by the simplicity of the prayer and the simplicity of the layout where we sat on the floor facing the orange light lit by candles and waited for the white robed brothers to arrive. The chanting and time of silence in the prayer enabled a personal reflection in a community setting.
The simplicity of the prayer was followed by a simple meal. It would be difficult to provide a la carte service for 3,000 people and would be out of keeping with the spirit of Taize. The young people served us and seemed not to mind their tasks of washing up which they did with great gusto…
In the afternoon, we had free time to reflect and some of us enjoyed the peace of the lakeside walk amidst the glorious sunshine, before hearing from Brother Paolo again about the origins of Taize with Brother Roger, its founder, who died in 2005. His spirit of welcome, especially to young people, lives on in the community. Since 1968, they have come to visit, and the numbers are growing. More recently, since 1992, refugee families have been housed in the village and, in 2015, 13 male refugees from Calais have been welcomed. This extraordinary story of the history of Taize was delivered in an understated manner and with a calmness of a trust gained by the experience of 40 years of monastic life.
We left Taize after the evening prayer at 9.30pm whilst the prayer continued with people gathering around the cross as the chants continued.