A month after Br Roger's death, the French newspaper 'Le Monde' sent a writer to visit Taize. And a week ago this article, introducing the new Prior, Brother Alois, was published. Many thanks to Henri Tincq from Le Monde for giving us permission to reprint it here. Blood during the evening prayer, at the time when silence descends in the Church of Reconciliation, as the lines of a heady chant vanish into the air. Hundreds of young people, sitting around the brothers in white, kneeling in front of a forest of candles and icons, witness the drama. The peace of the evening, the peace of the prayer, of the psalms and chants is shattered by absurd violence against 90 year old Brother Roger, stabbed by a mentally disturbed woman. At 9.30pm, that Tuesday, 16 August, Brother Alois was in the church of St Agnes in Cologne, where he was taking part in the World Youth Day meeting. Told about the death of the founder and prior of Taize, he immediately took to the road, arriving in Burgundy at daybreak. At 8.15, the time of the morning prayer, without a word being spoken, he took Brother Roger's place in the church. The children, as if nothing had happened, came to sit around him. At the end of the prayer, he embraced each of his brothers. That's it. The handover of power has taken place. With no conclave, speeches or enthronement. Alois Leser, a 51 year old German, has become the prior of Taize, successor to a man of God, Roger Shutz, the founder of the community, a symbol of reconciliation between divided churches, a spiritual father of our times, a friend of popes and young people. Everything has happened with the most extreme gentleness the absolute opposite of his death. Brother Alois is one of the 'children' of Taize' in the same way that we say of the circus "he was born into it". At the age of 16 he went there for the first time and learnt French through the psalms. "At Taize I discovered the simplicity of sung prayer" he says. At 20, he put on the habit, and at 24, made his final vows: "The presence of God here is a reality which is visible everywhere. I felt that he was taking all of me." That same year, 1978, Alois Leser travelled with Brother Roger to Nairobi where they stayed in a shanty town, then to Johannesburg, where the prior of Taize had been invited by Desmond Tutu as a sign against apartheid. It was there that Roger designated Alois as his successor. For twenty years the secret was kept. It was only in January 1998, during the community's annual council, that he asked his hundred brothers to open a sealed letter, originally intended to be read after his death, disclosing Alois, name. The fact that Brother Roger so early on chose as his successor this young man of 24 (who then apparently had nothing in particular to recommend him part from coming from a family that had migrated from the Sudeten mountains in Czechoslovakia before the war) and never changed his mind, no one tries to explain, putting it down to a gift of mystical foresight. One thinks of the Bible story in which God fetches the most humble of the twelve sons of Jesse to succeed King Saul and makes him into the great David. How irritating Taize is! This habit, ever since its foundation in 1940, of never doing things in the same way as others. Managing a succession without drama, at the time of greatest drama. The inner certainty of the brothers, who always have a smile on their lips without it ever being arrogance. The way they have of hiding their denominational identity, of seeming to disregard power games and ambition and letting themselves be led by the vocabulary of 'trust' 'kindness' 'simplicity' and 'fidelity'. And finally this way of expressing their faith which has survived all fashions and generations for sixty years and still attracts young people from all over the world who come looking for meaning or for comfort, for help and a little love. It is perhaps this that gave rise to Alois, early and mysterious calling. This man is a rock, representative of the quiet strength of Taize, with the certainty that his path is beyond his own understanding and that he is led by someone other than himself: "Let God work. Believe that he is there in the history of the world, as he is in that of our community".. Try drawing out of him the details of his private life, and he retreats behind a beaming smile. Not out of shyness, or to remind you to respect his privacy. But because this is unimportant, because the only thing that matters in this place is the meeting with God, in the thrice daily community prayer. You discover only that Alois Leser was brought up a Catholic and that he is of the Taize generation of the 1970s. Brother Roger knew how to shape people. Brother Alois remembers that at 19 he was sent alone to Prague "he a young German for whom Eastern Europe then seemed another continent" to meet in secret with believers. Then he visited Northern Ireland, Africa, Rome, where as a young man he "saw the humility" of Pope Paul VI, and Sweden. So much for the initial stages. As far as Protestant churches went, he knew only the one in the part of Stuttgart where he went to school and which he never, then, dared to enter. In Sweden he discovered the great Lutheran tradition. Taize wishes to remain a sort of sign which prefigures the reunification of the churches. "But if you look on ecumenism as an end in itself" Alois warns. 'then you lose sight of the true goal which is the common meeting with Christ. It is to this meeting that we come three times a day here in our community prayer." Brother Alois went to all Taize's youth meetings across the world. In between he studied the Latin and Greek Church Fathers, Irenaeus and Origen, who showed him that the tradition of the church speaks equally to modern times. Then he discovered the writings of the theologian Henri de Lubac and of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was murdered by the Nazis in 1945, from whom he remembers the duty of rebelliousness and of faithfulness to the word of Christ. Alois is also a fan of football and classical guitar. Narciso Yepes, the great Spanish guitarist, who was a Taize regular, gave him his guitar one day. Alois is one of the composers of the community's chants which have gone all round the world. Brother Roger's room remains intact, with a book by Cardinal Martini near the bed, scattered letters from Pope John XXIII and Mother Teresa, and the 15,000 messages received since his death. From the window one can see the rolling meadows flooded with sunshine and the memory of the great spiritual experiences of the France of years gone by, in Cluny and Ceteaux, so close at hand. At Taize life goes on. The legacy is well kept. The orphan has pardoned the murderer of his "Father".
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