By FATHER PAUL A. BURKE, Commentary | Published April 6, 2006
In looking back at the 20th century, we remember a century of much bloodshed: not one but two world wars, not to mention the countless conflicts throughout the world. In looking to the future, our beloved Holy Father Pope John Paul the Great made an earnest plea to humanity, “No more war!”
We have now entered into a new century, and once again we have witnessed much pain and suffering, as the bloodshed continues. In his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Peace is an irrepressible yearning present in the heart of each person, regardless of his or her particular cultural identity. Consequently, everyone should feel committed to the service of this great good and should strive to prevent any form of untruth from poisoning relationships.” He continued: “Nowadays, the truth of peace continues to be dramatically compromised and rejected by terrorism, whose criminal threats and attacks leave the world in a state of fear and insecurity.” He pleaded with all of humanity to embrace the “Gospel of peace” and he challenged all people to be “missionaries of peace.”
In 1940, Brother Roger Schutz left his native Switzerland to go to France as a missionary of peace. For years he had been an invalid, suffering from tuberculosis. Throughout his illness, he offered his sufferings in union with Christ’s.
During this time, God called him to create a religious community where simplicity and kindness would be lived out and where prayer and sacrifices would be offered for the intention of peace. Brother Roger bought a small house in Taizé, in the Burgundy region of France. One of his sisters assisted him in offering hospitality to visitors, and many Jewish refugees were sheltered within its walls.
Everyone was welcome at the house, regardless of religion, ethnicity or class. Many young men were drawn to Brother Roger and his mission. In 1949, the first brothers committed themselves for their whole life to celibacy, to material and spiritual sharing and to simplicity of life. Today, the Taizé community is made up of over 100 brothers, Catholics and Protestants, from 25 nations.
The Taizé community has always had a special place in the hearts of the popes. Pope John XXIII called Taizé “that little springtime.” Pope John Paul II, when visiting the community, said, “You have seen young people from everywhere come to you by the thousands, attracted by your prayer and your community life. How can we not think that these young people are the gift and the means that the Lord gives you to stimulate you to remain together, in the joy and the freshness of your gift, as springtime for all who are searching for true life?”
The greatness of the Taizé community rests in the fact that it is a living sign of reconciliation. One of the distinctive hallmarks of the community is a meditative chant that brings a person into the peace and stillness of the Lord. Sadly, Brother Roger died on Aug. 16, 2005, at the age of 90, murdered by a mentally disturbed woman. Brother Alois, a Catholic, was chosen as his successor.
Following Brother Roger’s death, Pope Benedict XVI said, “I would also like in this context to remember the great pioneer of unity, Brother Roger Schutz, who was so tragically snatched from life. I had known him personally for a long time and had a cordial friendship with him. He often came to visit me and, as I already said in Rome on the day of his assassination, I received a letter from him that moved my heart because in it he underlined his adherence to my path and announced to me that he wanted to come and see me. He is now visiting us and speaking to us from on high. I think that we must listen to him; from within we must listen to his spiritually lived ecumenism and allow ourselves to be led by his witness towards an interiorized and spiritualized ecumenism.” Brother Roger’s death was indeed a tragic loss felt by the whole world, particularly the Successor of Peter. However, his community is alive and well and continues to be a place of refuge and peace for a troubled world.
For the past three years, Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fairburn has brought the music and message of Taizé to life in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Under the direction of Franck Launay-Fallasse, a native of France, and his wife Cynthia, a Taizé choir was formed at the high school. This choir brought an opportunity to expose the students to the beauty and simplicity of the meditative chants, as well as an opportunity to transmit the message of peace. Little did we know that the choir would have had such an impact on so many people.
The choir has sung at events such as the Chrism Mass, the installation of Archbishop Wilton Gregory as Ordinary of Atlanta and the National Catholic Youth Conference and has performed at several parishes throughout the archdiocese. Because of the popularity of the choir and support from so many people, the choir recorded its first CD at Holy Spirit Church in Atlanta. The response has been amazing—every day, phone calls, e-mails and letters arrive at Our Lady of Mercy, praising the choir and its directors. We have witnessed firsthand the miracles that have taken place in the lives of people as a result of this ministry.
Brother Roger’s death was particularly felt by our school community. He was the inspiration for bringing Taizé to life at Our Lady of Mercy. However, his mission continues and his message of peace needs to be heard and lived. In order to pay their respects to Brother Roger and to pray in a special way for peace, Our Lady of Mercy’s Taizé choir will make a pilgrimage of peace to France over spring break.
The choir has been invited to sing at the Cathedral of Paris, Basilica of St. Martin and the Cathedral of Tours. In addition, they will visit the actual community of Brother Roger in Taizé. Here, their prayer for peace will intensify in an earnest desire for Christ’s farewell gift of peace to become a reality in a broken world.
Those wishing to assist in the choir’s pilgimage of peace can help in a number of ways. First, the choir requests prayers in support of their endeavor. The CD, “Songs of Taizé,” is available for a cost of $15 at the school’s Web site www.olmbobcats.org or by calling Cynthia Launay-Fallasse at (770) 461-2202, ext. 722.
The choir is accepting invitations to sing at parishes throughout the archdiocese. Arrangements can be made with Mrs. Launay-Fallasse.
Donations to defer the cost of the pilgrimage and to assist the Taizé community can be made. Checks should be made payable to Our Lady of Mercy (Taizé Pilgrimage) and mailed to Father Paul Burke, Chaplain, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School, 861 Highway 279, Fairburn, GA 30213. All donations are tax-deductible.
Let us pray especially that this new century will take the message of peace to heart, so that violence and bloodshed might be no more. “No more war!” was the plea of Pope John Paul the Great; may he intercede for us from his new home in heaven.
St. Francis Peace Prayer
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy;
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.