By Devin Watkins
Roger Schütz, known as Brother Roger, was murdered on 16 August 2005 at the community’s house in the town of Taizé in France’s Burgundy region.
But his story and influence neither began nor end there.
Br Roger was born into a Reformed Christian family on 12 May 1915 in Provence, Switzerland.
In 1940, as the Second World War broke out, Brother Roger felt God calling him to help those suffering during the conflict.
Soon after, he bought an empty house in Taizé, then part of unoccupied France, and hid Christian and Jewish refugees before being forced to flee the Nazi secret police.
He returned in 1944 to found the Taizé Community, an ecumenical Christian monastic fraternity.
Now, 15 years after Brother Roger’s death, his influence and spirit are still strongly felt by the over 100,000 young people who make their way to Taizé every year.
Persevering in hard times
Brother Émile, a member of the Taizé Community who lived with the founder for 30 years, spoke to Vatican Radio about Brother Roger’s life and legacy.
Many of the young people that visit Taizé nowadays were born after he had died and have only heard about him indirectly, said Brother Émile.
“I think what strikes them is that he was someone who started something at a very hard time in the history of the world, the Second World War—1940 when Brother Roger first came to Taizé—and was able to persevere with hope,” said Brother Émile.
When people are young, he added, they wonder if their idealism will outlast the difficulties of life.
“But when you see someone who has been through the hardest events of world history and kept hope and faith, I think that speaks to them.”
Enduring presence pointing to Christ
Continuity, said Brother Émile, is key to understanding the enduring appeal of the Taizé Community.
“Brother Roger had a very interesting way of being present. At the same time, that presence was not opaque. It was a presence that was transparent to Christ’s presence.”
According to Brother Émile, those who met Brother Roger felt like “searching for God” rather than being drawn to focus their attention on him.
“I think that’s what continues. People come to Taizé and they search for Christ, just as Br Roger was searching for Christ, trying to live faith in Christ.”
The founder of the Taizé Community also had the gift of “making things accessible to people”, said Brother Émile.
He could convey the complexities of faith to young people through symbols and “by offering an experience of prayer with the songs, with the silence, with so many symbolic expressions that you find at Taizé.”
Legacy of learning to trust
As the community he founded looks back on his legacy, Brother Roger’s reflections on trust come to the fore, according to Brother Émile.
Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, Brother Roger felt that “there was a crisis of trust”.
“He felt that we are in a culture of suspicion and that’s sometimes necessary—we don’t want to be naïve. But we also need to find wellsprings that will nourish a life of trust within us.”
Trust, said Br Émile, is what “helps us to build and to be creative.”