Thursday, August 18, 2005

That Little Springtime

As if we needed more reminding that America and Europe are very different places, Frere Roger's murder is garnering front-page, high-octane coverage on the Continent befitting the death of a head of state. You're lucky if you see it in your "World in Brief" section of today's paper in the States.

From The Times in London, a two-page obituary:
The charisma of this frail and sensitive Swiss pastor without oratorical gifts has attracted more young people than any other religious leader in Europe, Catholic or Protestant. He linked prayer and the fight against injustice using the phrase “struggle and contemplation”. Worship three times a day is part of a life which includes a farm co-operative, a printing press and studios for painting and pottery....

All the popes felt that Roger had an extraordinary charisma. Pius XII allowed him to plead that the dogma of the Assumption should not be promulgated simply on the basis of papal infallibility. John XXIII saw Taizé as “that little springtime” and invited the community to Rome during the sessions of Vatican II. With his usual tact, Roger did not comment on the turmoil after Paul VI’s Humanae vitae (1968) but he felt that winter had settled on European Christianity. His response was to welcome more and more young people to Taizé — in 1974 40,000 came for a Council of Youth. Some of the brothers protested that the crowds of visitors to Taizé made the life of contemplation impossible. In the 1960s German Christians had presented a huge new church in which the brothers inserted windows of fine stained glass where the worship and silence were compelling. In the 1970s even this church became too small, and its back wall was taken down so that tents could be erected for up to 3,000 worshippers....

Roger’s visits to cities were astonishing. He drew thousands of young people to London in 1981 and 1987. By miracles of efficiency and goodwill, St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, the cathedrals in Southwark and Methodist Central Hall were linked so that prayers, hymns and words could be relayed from each to the others. St Paul’s had its largest congregation since VE-Day — more than 9,000 worshippers with simultaneous translation in several languages. The sense of reconciliation between visitors from the East and the West was personal and moving.

When the 1995 visit to Paris attracted 25,000 people, the strain on hospitality in the parishes was too great, and Jewish communities took in Catholics from Poland, the army provided barracks and the Métro gave free transport.

Roger did something to fill the gap in European Christian leadership left by the premature death of William Temple, the brevity of the pontificate of John XXIII, the hanging of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the loss of many young Christian leaders in wartime.
And if that wasn't impressive enough, from The Telegraph:

The candlelit services with the singing of distinctive and much-repeated responses, led by guitar-playing folk groups, may not always appeal to those with conventional liturgical expectations. But they have proved flexible enough to be included in Catholic low masses, Anglican services and prayer meetings of the United Church in Canada, and to be welcomed as a vital boost to the Christian Church, which is all too aware of its rapid decline in the West.

Since 1959 thousands of young people have made their way by train, bus, car and on foot to Taizé's plain concrete church on a Burgundian hill, there to camp out in tents at Easter and throughout the summer. Taizé has been visited by three Archbishops of Canterbury, several Orthodox metropolitans, 14 Swedish Lutheran bishops and by Pope John Paul II, who compared it to "a spring of water".

The Church of Reconciliation at Taizé has an aura of peace, while a symbolic hedge runs down the centre, creating a special area for the community; post-modern sculptures and stained glass reflect light on Russian icons.

Some 100 men, drawn from different denominations, are members of the monastery which is located at the bottom of the hill. Although they dress as laymen, they wear white hooded robes in church. Many admit to being uncertain about the reasons for Taizé's appeal to modern youth. Brother Roger offered the simple explanation that the community's purpose was to love and be loved, to forgive and to be forgiven.

If there's any good to be found in all this, it's in the old saying: Sanguinem martyorum, semen Christianorum....

-30-

3 Comments:

Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

You make an interesting and relevant point, although it has to be said, the UK papers generally print obituaries daily and clergy have long been the staple of obituary pages... Many of these are written years in advance and the readership of broadsheets in the UK is far far lower than the tabloids which the majority read! Note also that the Telegraph has a Catholic editor...

18/8/05 06:13  
Blogger patrick said...

If, instead of being murdered by this Romanian woman, Brother Roger had died of a heart attack while in bed with this Romanian woman, don't you know that the American press would have been all over the story?

18/8/05 09:39  
Blogger Jimmy Mac said...

More years ago than I care to remember, I lived in London. One of my great delights was to read the daily Times and to catch the more interesting obits that I had ever seen. I didn't have a clue who most of the folks were, but the skill and sheer poetry of the writing made up for that. The Gray Lady and other US MSM giants can't hold a candle to even the poorest of Times' obits.

18/8/05 17:06  

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