Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Brother Roger, founder of Taize, killed in worship.
It's with profound shock that I report that Brother Roger — founder and abbot of Taize, the ecumenical monastery known throughout the Christian world for its sung prayers and for its ministry to young people — was stabbed to death during Tuesday night's prayer service in the Taize Community's Church of Reconciliation. According to Agence France Presse, a 36-year-old Romanian woman stabbed the 90-year-old spiritual leader of Taize three times in the back. The Australian Associated Press reports that he died immediately. The young woman is in police custody.
("Meurtre de Frère Roger à Taizé : une femme en garde à vue," AFP, LeMonde.fr 8.16.05; "Taize's Founder Stabbed to Death" (AAP, National Nine News 8.17.05. Update 11.16.05: Both links have now expired; see more complete coverage linked below.)
I can only imagine the confusion and grief at Taize right now, where more than 4,000 people had gathered from all over the globe when Mrs Philocrites and I were there two weeks ago. We each received a blessing from Br Roger during one of the evening worship services: At the conclusion of the service, he sat in a chair near the monks' door and put a trembling, gentle hand on the head of each person who knelt before him. In retrospect, I see that tangible contact between a famous and revered person and the thousands of pilgrims who came to his community as a sign of willing vulnerability — he was a person of peace who refused to wall himself off from others. Even though someone took terrible advantage of this vulnerability, it was nevertheless a blessing to thousands of people who experienced it as a tangible grace during the six decades of his ministry at Taize.
My prayers are with everyone at Taize now and with everyone — especially the young people — for whom Taize has been a transformative experience, for whom this news can only be even more distressing than it is for me.
Updates 8.17.05: "Taize founder dies after stabbing" (BBC 8.17.05); "Frère Roger a été tué lors d'une agression à Taizé" (Le Monde 8.17.05).
The Taize website now features a prayer and a brief statement that says that Brother Roger's body will be placed in the church each afternoon from 3:00 to 7:00 "so that all who wish may go and meditate close by him"; his funeral is next Tuesday at 2:00 pm.
The World Council of Churches responds to his death with a letter to the brothers at Taize. The Archbishop of Canterbury offers a brief statement. Pope Benedict XVI expresses shock in a Catholic News Service story.
Updates 8.18.05: The Associated Press now has more details about the woman who killed Br Roger:
The 36-year-old intruder, who was not named, 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.
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.
("Christian Leader Stabbed to Death During Evening Prayers," Elaine Ganley [AP], Boston Globe 8.18.05, reg req'd; another version of the AP story quotes Romanian media that more fully identify the woman)
The need for a critical history of Taize is apparent in the conflicting obituaries: The Times (UK) says Br Roger was the son of a "Swiss Lutheran pastor and a French mother," while the New York Times says he was "the son of a Swiss Calvinist pastor and a French Protestant mother." The Associated Press describes his parents as "a Swiss Protestant father and a French Catholic mother," which makes more sense.
Updates 8.22.05: I'm disappointed not to find a church in the Boston area that will offer a memorial service for Brother Roger on Tuesday — the day of his funeral — as Greenhills Community Church in Cincinnati will. Taize groups in the United States remembered Brother Roger this week in a variety of ways. Here are articles about local observances from Milwaukee and Richmond, Va..
("The Gentle Brother Roger of Taize," Thom Shumann, Cincinnati Enquirer 8.22.05; "Taize Leader Touched Many: Pilgrims from Milwaukee Area Recently Visited Brother Roger's Center," Tom Heinen, Journal-Sentinel 8.19.05; "Service Will Honor Slain Taize Founder," Richmond Times-Dispatch 8.20.05.)
Mrs Philocrites and I will remember him Tuesday morning at the same hour that his funeral service will take place in France; in the sermons we preached this past Sunday, we tried to give people some small sense of the impression he and his community made on us — but it's almost impossible to convey. Our hearts are with the pilgrims all over the world who have been there and felt the joy and blessing of the community to which he gave his whole life, and who have tried to share that blessing with others.
Updates 8.23.05: Christianity Today's Weblog also offers a good round-up of coverage of Brother Roger's life and death.
Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 16 August 2005 at 9:07 PM