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Taize in Prague - New Year 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Along with 30,000 other young people, I spent this New Year at the Taizé European Meeting in Prague. 

Many readers will be familiar with the prayerful music of Taizé – normally Biblical texts set to short and simple chant melodies, with harmonies, and repeated several times as a meditative prayer. But the European Meetings may be less familiar. Every year, thousands of young people gather in a European city over the New Year, to pray together, to meet other Christians, and to receive the warm hospitality of the local people and church communities. As an ecumencial gathering, Taizé meetings are a simple and beautiful way of praying with Christians of all traditions.This was my first European Meeting. I had only previously known the distinctive style of Taizé prayer from a small group at university, and from a single afternoon spent at the International Meeting in Manila when I was living there as a Dominican Volunteer. These meetings strike a good balance between the large and small, between the awe-inspiring and the intimate. In the mornings, we were assigned to local churches for morning prayer and small discussion groups where we could talk freely about the Gospel, how to work for peace, and how to build solidarity in our societies. Evening prayer was then held together in enormous snow-laden hangars on the outskirts of the city, which had been converted into a prayerful space by the presence of the Taizé cross and icon, in a forest of candlelight, as well as religious art by the Bohemian poet and designer, Bohuslav Reynek. On the evening of New Year's Day, we joined the ecumenical Taizé service in St Vitus' Cathedral, with prayers by Christian leaders from different denominations, including the Cardinal, Dominic Duka, a Dominican friar who in the Communist period had shared a prison cell with Vaclav Havel.In the afternoons, workshops gave us the opportunity to learn about aspects of the Christian life, the Church and society. I attended a talk on the Bohemian reformer, Jan Hus, condemned to death at the Council of Constance in 1415 for his Wycliffite preaching, thus sparking the Hussite wars, the beginning of several painful chapters in Czech history. I heard how the commemoration of Hus's sixth centenary in 2015 might not be a source of further division among Christians but an opportunity to seek the truth and reconciliation. I also attended a talk by a Dominican friar from Istanbul on how to promote mutual understanding between believers of different religions. We heard testimonies from two Czech Muslims; very timely, given the current anxieties about the danger from radical Islamists and the precarious situation of the tiny Muslim minority in the Czech Republic.

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Brother Roger, the founder of the Taizé community in France, the 75th anniversary of the community's founding, and the 10th anniversary of Brother Roger's death. Brother Alois, the current leader of the community, had made several 'proposals' for young people to reflect on as they work 'towards a new solidarity'. At Prague, these proposals included: sharing with those around us a zest for life, committing ourselves to reconcilation, working for peace, and taking care of our earth.It was perhaps the discussion on peace that I found most helpful. In our small group, we agreed with Brother Alois' proposal that peace is not just the absence of conflict. To take a fictional example: in Star Wars, the evil Emperor Palpatine establishes an uneasy and oppressive stability by subduing all his political rivals: 'Once more the Sith will rule the galaxy, and we shall have peace.' But peace cannot come at the price of freedom and truth. Think of the close connection between our English words 'peaceful' and 'harmonious'. Harmony, in the musical sense, reveals motion together for a common purpose, which is a beautiful interrelation of different voices. Likewise, peace must be a common project that does not remain static but builds up a community with justice for the common good.We noted that our European societies are increasingly operating on an inadequate notion of peace, identifying it with non-confrontation, the assertion of individual human rights, and a fear of causing offence. But peace must be built on truth, as was recognised by the Truth and Reconciliation process in post-Apartheid South Africa. A concern for the truth prevents us from excluding minorities, who always have something to teach us, and yet it also ensures that we do not encourage or accept a mere fragmentation of society and the loss of true values.

When the Risen Jesus met his disciples he said three times, 'Peace be with you' (Jn 20). He gave them the Holy Spirit to empower them to bring the Good News to the whole world, and to be peacemakers in all kinds of hostile situation. In spreading the truth of the Gospel, the apostles were truly blessed peacemakers, for God had reconciled the world to himself and was calling all people to share in his truth, his justice, and his peace. And he calls all of us in the Church today to do the same.

The next Taizé European Meeting will be held in Valencia.

Wall painting of St Dominic in the Minor Basilica of St Peter and St Paul, Vysehrad, Prague

Fr Matthew Jarvis O.P.


Fr Matthew Jarvis is currently studying Patristics at the Catholic University of Lyon.


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