My introduction to Relief and Reconciliation started in the summer of 2016, during a presentation by Fritz in Taizé. This picturesque village in the south of France is the main site of a religious community that hosts thousands of young people each year. I have been one of these young people, visiting for a week every summer since 2012. Fritz also visited Taizé as a youth in the past and he says it left a deep impression on him. In many ways, the work of Relief and Reconciliation is inspired by Taizé. This winter, a small provisional Community of Taizé of four international volunteers will stay for a month in the Peace Center in Akkar. In this blog I would like to tell you more about the Taizé Community and the way their work has been an inspiration for Relief and Reconciliation for Syria.
The Taizé Community was founded in France in 1940 by Roger Schütz, who became known as Frère Roger (Brother Roger). Frère Roger grew up in Switzerland, but his mother was French. When the Second World War started in 1940, he decided to follow the example of his grandmother, who had helped refugees during the First World War. He rode a bicycle from Switzerland into France, looking for a place where he could be of help. In the village of Taizé, close to the demarcation line that divided France, he found the perfect place to start his shelter for refugees fleeing the Nazi-occupied zone. He raised the funds to buy an empty house and – together with his sister Geneviève – started hosting people. Christians, Jews, atheists: anybody was welcome. In 1942, however, the German Gestapo discovered their activities and they in turn had to go back to Switzerland.
In the city of Geneva – which later became birthplace of the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees – Frère Roger started a community life with other Christian brothers. They returned to Taizé in 1944, when France was liberated. In 1945, just after the war, the newly established community agreed to host children who had lost their parents during the war. On Sundays, the brothers welcomed German prisoners-of-war, who were interned in a camp near Taizé. This was a first sign that their hospitality would go beyond nationality, religion or other dividing factors. The Taizé community, with an increasing number of brothers from different Christian denominations – vowed to live a simple life of daily prayer and service to those in need.
As the village church of Taizé became to small to host the community’s prayers, a new church was built in the early 1960’s with the help of volunteers. It was named the Church of Reconciliation. Many young people had started to visit the community. In 1966, the first international young adults’ meeting was was held, with participants from over 30 countries. At the end of the 1970’s, the meetings began to be referred to as a ‘Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth’. The objective is that young people will take the spirit of trust and reconciliation back to their local communities.
Nowadays, the Taizé Community is made up of over a hundred brothers from various Christian backgrounds, coming from over thirty countries. Small groups of brothers are living outside of Taizé, in Asia, Africa and South America. Brother Alois, the new Prior of Taizé since 2005, has said: “”We brothers just want to be present, in Taizé or in the places where we live on different continents, persevering in our community life and prayer. By our presence we would like to be among those in whom you can always find support in your search for trust.”
A few weeks ago, two brothers of Taizé visited the Peace Center in Akkar. They have been traveling around the Middle East, looking for ways to relieve the suffering of those affected by violent conflicts. The Taizé community has been hosting a Syrian family that was resettled from an informal refugee camp in Akkar. The brothers came to visit relatives of this family and to learn more about the situation of Syrian refugees in this region. It was a great experience to meet them and to pray and sing together.
This year, Taizé and Relief and Reconciliation are collaborating on another project: a Small Provisional Community, made up of four international volunteers who will be staying in the Peace Center for a month. These four girls – Rafaela (Switzerland), Julia (Spain), Maria (Romania) and Raquel (Portugal) – will be organizing daily prayers, social activities and other forms of support for Syrians and Lebanese in need.
Relief and Reconciliation is founded on many of the same principles as the Taizé Community: the openness for people from different backgrounds, inter-faith dialogue and a focus on the youth. That is why it is so great to have this collaboration and to learn from each other. Some of the volunteers (including me) will be leaving soon, but I have confidence that the Taizé volunteers will do great things during their time here.
“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other.” (Col 3:12b-13a)
To find out more about the Taizé Small Provisional Community that will be established at the Peace Center, visit:
French teaching volunteer – December 2016