A couple of weeks ago, Carnival was celebrated in some countries around the world. While some took their moments of fun out of it, some, each year, decide to embrace a new kind of adventure—still fun, but with a different flavor.
Getting to know Taizé
Don’t you know what “Taizé” is? Well, don’t look for it just yet—let me try to explain and then I’ll redirect you to it.
Well, as I was saying, while some want to enjoy a great and festive Carnival week, others instead prefer to spend it in a small village just in-between the cities of Dijon (the home of the famous moutarde) and Lyon, in France, called Taizé.
Well-located on the French Burgundy region, Taizé not only is a small village, as it is one of the biggest communities in the world, gathering thousands of young adults and families from all over the world.
History of Taizé
Everything began in 1940 when Roger Schütz left Switzerland to go and live in France, with this idea in mind to create a community. This call had occurred with his long history of being ill with tuberculosis, during such long convalescence.
Right on the first year of the Second World War, we had the conviction that he should come to the assistance of people going through this torment, just as his grandmother had done during the First World War. He then rode a bicycle from Geneva, Switzerland to Taizé (a place which was unoccupied France, just beyond the line of demarcation from the zone occupied by German troops). Thanks to a modest loan, Roger bought a house with outlying buildings that had been uninhabited for years.
With the help of his sister, Geneviève, they hid refugees with both Christian and Jewish faiths. In such times, material resources were scarce: without any water, they managed to arrange a way to get some on the town’s well; for food, they easily cooked soups made from corn flour bought cheaply at the nearby mill (1).
Out of discretion towards those he was sheltering, Roger prayed alone for them. In his prayers, he often went to sing far from the house, in the woods, so none of the refugees, Jews, Christians or agnostics, would feel ill-at-ease, allowing each one of them to pray on its own if they wished to do so.
In the urge of the Second World War, Roger and his sisters’ activities had been reported to be found by Gestapo—after it was given the alert that everybody at this house in Taizé should leave at once. Until the end of the war, Roger went to its birthplace—Geneva,—where he began a common life with some other people, initiating a brotherhood—he was then Brother Roger.
Gradually other young men came to join the original group in Taizé and, on Easter Day 1949, there were already seven of them who committed themselves together for their whole life in celibacy and to a life together in great simplicity. During the winter of 1952-53, Roger wrote the “Rule of Taizé,” to be that “the essential that makes the common life possible” (1).
In 1962 a new church was built as an acknowledgment from a German organization to start a further reconciliation on the France-Germany bonds. More than 50 000 young adults from all over the world visit the community since 1966, coming from a wide variety of faiths and beliefs. Since then, Taizé offers the needed hospitality to these people, allowing them to be a part of workshops, choirs, music, biblical studies, and common praying.
In 1969, a young Belgian doctor became the first Catholic to pledge his life to the Taizé Community. More brothers from Reformed, Anglican and Catholic backgrounds joined the community.
The community itself does not accept any type of donations, since its members agreed on living a simple life, with the work and resources of the brotherhood. As the community was getting bigger, the church was augmented, and campus was created, allowing people to have access to chalets and places to freely mount tents.
In 2005, Brother Roger was killed during one of the prayers, at the age of 90, by a deranged person. Since then, Brother Alois, whom Brother Roger chose as his successor many years ago, has been the prior of the Community.
More information can be found here (this link will open the official main page of the Taizé Community).
My Experience in Taizé
Well, I started out this article with the Carnival week, and until now no word was written related to that—so… let’s relate to it! My first time in Taizé happened to be on a Carnival week, back in 2011. Actually, my first three years in Taizé all occurred in the Carnival weeks, because my school offered out the opportunity of traveling there in such week.
All this crazy idea of going to Taizé was given by a lovely teacher of ours (back in my high school times) named Teresa Grancho, a Catholic class teacher in our school. Although crazy, this whole idea of going to Taizé led me, then, to enhance my inner feelings about the acceptance of different cultures and beliefs. More, it got me to know better my friends and, even more, myself.
A quest to know more about ourselves
In fact, the best accomplishment one could get from going to Taizé, is to get to know more and better about the concept of ourselves: questions such as “who am I?” or “what is my importance in my own community?” are the most thoughtful ones by who travels to Taizé.
Today we live in a world where nobody wants to know who they are. In fact, it is quite simple to evidence that: all the hatred pronounced in racism, xenophobia and other increasing disruptions made these days shows us that a lot of people do not know who they are and which is their identity on a community. Taizé calls the best there is inside us by exploring what we have less in our stressful lives: silence.
The first time I went to Taizé I arrived on a Sunday, just in time for the evening prayer, after dinner. At home, I did already hear some of the choral songs of prayers, but… I wasn’t expecting it to be so strong, when I entered the church’s door—there’s nothing like thousands of people chanting in unison in such a place… it was a blessing!
In fact, that was the first lesson I took in Taizé: we, together as a community, can transform anything considered dull into something astonishing to anyone. Those songs are one of the best examples of that: each song has, on average, two lines of lyrics and a simple melody which is then repeated (depending on each case) almost 20 times; if sang by a single person, bah… nothing special happens; but since they are composed to have harmony, as soon as a second person starts singing it in a second voice or more… something starts building up, and no one can argue another way.
With this, I still remember my first evening in Taizé. When I went to bed, I started to picture what my week was going to be like: maybe I would have time to think in myself and what I’ve accomplished until then, time to look to my friends and colleagues and how important they are to me, and time to get to know new people from around the world. In a matter of fact, I’ve accomplished to do all such things.
But Taizé is not only that. In Taizé we have the experience of silence. Probably, if you never been in Taizé, then you must be thinking how special could silence be: I mean, to you, silence only is the absence of any kind of sound and something you could achieve whatever you want it to, at home, sometimes at work, or within a small promenade in an afternoon. Well, the issue is, in Taizé, silence is not only that but also the joyfulness in valuing what we’ve done in our daily communities. During our week we have some periods where one could merely pause and have a moment of silence, but there is a day where is everybody is demanded to do a full hour of silence in the village. Happening in the middle of our Taizé week, this silence hour leads us to think about what we’ve learned until then and that we can bring with us to our homes and workplaces.
For me, things such the role in my professional path or life choices, were two of the most essential matters my time in Taizé helped me to determine. It was on those moments of silence that I felt my life was paused and that I had the time to deliberate on an answer to those questions. It really is nothing out-of-the-box, as we can do it every day, but the fact I was in Taizé, away from my routines and worries, I felt that no matter which decision I made, that was the correct one.
The cultural exchange
Weirdly, the first time I went to Taizé I didn’t choose to go for religious reasons—what captivated me the most was the cultural exchange I was about to give and receive!
In these four different times I went up there I had the chance of meeting people from all the continents. In my first three years, as I went there on a school trip in the Carnival season (as I started mentioning in this article), most of the people I met there were Portuguese people—even from my own town,—since most of people were from various schools of the country that every year chose to go to Taizé on this season.
But on these three first years, I also met some people from the four different corners of this world: I met several French people (mostly from Bordeaux and Toulouse, with whom I still have contact), people from Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Australia, United States, Peru, and a family from Japan. I found that people were very similar to one another, but things such compliments as I do them, were odd to some cultures: here in Portugal it is usual to compliment (me, a man), women with a cheek kiss and men with a handshake; but I found that in Germany, for instance, a cheek kiss is something brutally intimate; and that in France people kiss themselves three times, in opposition to two times as in Portugal.
But the most captivating year which I’ve met people was my last one. This time, I went to Taizé on its most-beloved season: the summer. I went there in 2014, with a handful of friends (old colleagues from high school), by invitation of some friends I knew who went living to Coimbra, Portugal. I do have to say: it was an incredible experience, which, on its own, I will have to describe it later, on a new separated article.
Taizé, in the summer, is entirely different from the other years. First, this is summer, so it is the first time I’m in Taizé with warm temperatures—I was used to temperatures between -10° and 10°C (14°F and 50°F). Second, the amount of nationalities on Taizé this season is way bigger than in Carnival season: this year I met people from France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Japan, China, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, India, Cyprus, Greece, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, and some others I am not quite remembering right now 🤷♂️.
This last year, I also was made responsible for a group of young adults, to coordinate all the workshops and stuff during the week. It was fun, but I really felt I didn’t need it. I really felt someone else could have done it better than I did. But that also led me to think about how could I be better in giving the best of myself to others, mostly to those I do not know, who are entirely strangers to me.
A Taizé songs potpourri
Really there are a lot of other topics to reveal and to discuss on this topic of Taizé, and I really think it is worth sharing. But as this article is already big enough, I guess I’m going to pause it right now and complete it with another, to be added in some days from now.
In the meantime, I share with another of my Spotify playlists. This time, one that was based on the booklet “Songs of Taizé—2014/2015” that I bought the last time I went to Taizé. I found it very useful to play it randomly (with shuffling on) sometimes a week, just to remember myself of the feelings I had each time I went to this so small, yet so peaceful community.
With this post, an article was published in the page Sete Margens, in Portuguese. If you want to see more, please click on the following button:
(1) Taizé Community, “The beginnings — Taizé”, Taizé, http://taize.fr/en_article6526.html (accessed March 18, 2019);
(2) Contributeurs de Wikipédia, “Communauté de Taizé,” Wikipédia, l’encyclopédie libre, https://fr.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Communaut%C3%A9_de_Taiz%C3%A9&oldid=156615677 (accessed March 18, 2019);
Cover image from Wikipedia Commons, from Christian Pulfrich.