Teenagers from five schools in northern England have just arrived home after a pilgrimage with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, to Taize in France. The Taizé Community is an ecumenical monastic order of more than one hundred brothers, from Catholic and Protestant traditions. Founded in 1940 by Roger Louis Schutz-Marsauche (known as 'Brother Roger'), the Taizé Community every year attracts over 100,000 young people from around the world.
Archbishop Sentamu said; “Taizé is an extraordinary place, a place of trust, joy, simplicity and compassion.To be able to join with young people from more than 100 countries in sharing food together, worship and learning is a wonderful experience, and each time I have returned from Taize I have returned blessed, inspired and encouraged by others”.
One of the headteachers, Simon Barber, Principal at Manor CE Academy, reflected on the experience they all shared:
I have just completed my second visit to Taize and once again I have been in awe of the impact this place has on the young people who pilgrimage here. This year was different to my first visit, in fact Brother Paolo warned us of the difficulty that some have here on their second visit when they expect a repeat of their first. This year we camped and that was brilliant! Having a camp just for our school and organising the tents in a circle to create our own space was really good and enabled us to have regular meetings together and have a place to relax and hang out.
There were a lot more people in Taize this week too, around 3,500 young people and a further 1000 adults. This meant the church was almost completely full for every service which was amazing during the periods of silence and song. Having so many people worship together is such a Taize experience! So are the queues for the food, but they move amazingly quickly.
But the transformational impact Taize has on young people is the same. They come often with reservation and worry but very quickly fit in with the rhythm of life here. A rhythm that includes worship, silence and reflection but also includes meeting, laughing and living life to the full with young people the same age from countries all over the world. Many of our students are already declaring this pilgrimage the favourite thing they have ever done at school. High praise!
This is what Hannah wrote in her journal: "Taize has made me realise who I am and what my faith is...Talking about my faith for me is hard but Taize has made me see that my faith really matters...Everybody I have spoken to has so much positive energy to share about God"
That's Taize in a nutshell I think. A special unique place where life is different and quite wonderful.
From the young pilgrims:
Throughout the diary entries, the students have reflected on many different aspects of Taizé. They have explored their challenges, their emotional journeys and how Taizé has changed their thinking. As they prepared to leave Taizé they began to reflect on what they would take away:
Maybe the silences? For many of us, Taizé’s use of silence has been thought-provoking. As you approach the church each day, from many metres away the Iconic ‘SILENCE’ signs are visible at each door. At first these signs may seem commanding, like an instruction like a ‘no entry’ road sign – “you must be silent”. However this is not Taizé’s or God’s heart. The signs are more like a ‘welcome to…’ location sign – “Welcome to silence, population: everyone’. Silence however is just one word we would use to describe Taizé. Here are some others:
You have such a profound and unique experience during your stay at Taizé that you feel you may leave a little of your heart here. However, as we reflect on all our experiences and memories of our trip, a better way perhaps to think is actually we have all found a new part of heart. A new part that we can choose to take home and outwork in our lives outside of this beautiful, transformational community.
Dan Finn, Director of the Archbishop of York’s Youth Trust:
Clicking: we do it throughout our lives as we use a computer mouse, get to know a prospective partner or close a door securely. Clicking with God can be far harder to achieve, even for those who think of themselves as religious. How privileged I felt therefore, to be escorting over 90 young pilgrims to Taizé for a week of encounters or clicks with Him; a week of opening doors, hearts and minds.
Singing with over 3,000 other people in the magnificent Church of Reconciliation transported us to another level; yet silence punctuated and enhanced this spiritual encounter. In the early stages this silence seemed uncomfortable but for many of our young pilgrims silent moments enabled their Taizé experience to click: friendships forged, hope renewed and the love of the Holy Spirit restored in them.