Some 40,000 young Christians are gathering in Geneva to participate in a five-day pilgrimage organized by the Taize religious community and Swiss churches. The Taize community, based in Burgundy, France, has invited young adults from 70 countries to attend its 30th European meeting. The gathering has received messages of good will from spiritual leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI and diplomatic personalities such as U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon. Lisa Schlein attended the Taize gathering and has this report for VOA.
This cavernous exhibition hall in Geneva has been temporarily transformed into a place of worship. Thousands of young people, mainly from Europe, but as far away as Asia and Africa are here to pray, to meditate, to discuss issues of social conscience and to make friends.
Ann Elizabeth Lesseur, 21, is from Angers in France. This is her fourth Taize Pilgrimage. She grew up in a very religious family. But, she says, one day as a child she began to doubt her faith.
"Then I discovered Taize a bit after that. I discovered that a lot of young people are just like me and it is not a problem to doubt. I think Brother Roger said that very well that we can doubt," she said.
Roger Louis Schütz-Marsauche, known within the Taize community as Brother Roger, founded the religious organization in the French town of the same name in 1940. The 100 brothers who form the community are from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. They are committed to a simple, celibate life and live from their own work. They do not accept donations or gifts.
Brother Emile is originally from Canada. He has been a member of Taize for 30 years. He has spent the past few months organizing the pilgrimage to Geneva. He says people of all ages come to Taize, but the community believes its priority should be to help and be at the service of young people between ages 17 and 29.
"They perhaps have more difficulty finding their place in society and finding their place in the church," he said. "Brother Roger had a great love for young people, a great respect also for young people. He believed in listening to them, listening to their intuitions. Not that he was naïve and thought that everything they were saying was true, but he did believe that their thirst for justice, for unity was reconciled and was something that was not just idealism. It was something that resonated with the gospels, with something that was true."
Brother Emile says the theme of this year's meeting is "Pilgrimage of Trust Across the Earth." He says the word trust has been a thread throughout all these assemblages.
"Even if the world changes so much, society changes a lot. The context of Europe changes so much," he added. "But the word trust has always been at the heart of these meetings. How to build trust, how to find trust, how to find sources of trust because the trust that Christians have, it should be more accessible. Often it is wrapped in a vocabulary that is so complicated, with theological words that young people cannot relate to."
Prayer services are held three times a day. In between, special workshops are held. Brother Emile says they mainly explore subjects of a religious or humanitarian nature.
"For example, there are people working with immigrants here in Geneva. They will share with the young people what it means to be close to people in distress, people of another culture because Taize is not just about prayer. It is about human solidarity. It is about trying to be present where there are challenges in society," added Brother Emile.
The young people who are here at the Taize pilgrimage realize it is rich with possibilities.
It is easy to enter into prayer," said Nicolas. "If you want to pray, you pray. If you do not, you do not."
I think it is a special way of life," added Emma. "When you come there, it is like holidays from life, from the life you have at home, with a lot of stuff you have to do."
"My name is David Lomber, Junior," added another pilgrim. "I am 19. I just turned 19 and I am from Phoenix, Arizona. I am a foreign exchange student. My foreign exchange brother, my host brother-he went to Taize and that is why I was interested in seeing what it was like."
"It is also interesting to see there are other people who are believing different things or just thinking differently and to just get some new, different ways of looking on the world and God," said Christian.
As more people arrive, the noise level rises. The chemistry changes as they move from one group to another. In the midst of the activity, 12 young people are seen sitting with their legs crossed in a big circle. A young man is strumming the guitar. The others are listening or singing along. Within this vast gathering, they have created an intimate island of their own.