Recently I made my first visit to the National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield. It’s a place of memory and hope, and I was particularly struck by the main memorial to those members of the armed forces who have died since 1945. Names are carved on about two-thirds of the stone walls; sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mums and dads, who never came home. I found myself running a hand along the smooth wall for future years and wondered whose names would be there. I pondered to myself what pain was still to come, what tears and bloodshed, bullets and bombs? Oh, if only we could learn to make plough shares and pruning hooks. How, I wondered, could I make a difference towards building a little part of a more peaceable world?
In 1940 a young twenty-five year old left his native Switzerland and moved to France wanting to make a difference. For years he had been ill with tuberculosis, and during that long convalescence, the call to create a community had matured within him. At the height of the Second World War, Brother Roger, as he became known, realised that he could build a little part of a more peaceable world by assisting refugees.
He settled in the small Burgundy village of Taizé, close to the demarcation line dividing France in two, and it was there that he, together with one of his sisters, began sheltering refugees, including Jewish people. There was no running water, just the village well, and food was scarce.
Brother Roger’s parents, knowing that their son and daughter were in danger, asked a retired French officer who was a friend of the family to watch over them. In the autumn of 1942, he warned them that their activities had been found out and that everyone should leave at once. So until the end of the war, it was in Geneva that Brother Roger lived and it was there that he began a common life with his first brothers. They were able to return to Taizé in 1944.
Since then Brother Roger’s ecumenical community has grown to around 100 brothers. Each summer they are joined by thousands of young adults to spend a week seeking communion with God in prayer, singing, silence and reflection. Young people who spend time there often rediscover an inner peace, a meaning to life and a new impetus. Experiencing a simple life shared with others reminds us that daily life is the place where Christ is waiting for us.
Next July I am going to be leading a pilgrimage, together with the Bishop of Southampton in the Diocese of Winchester, to Taizé. I warmly invite 18 to 25-year-olds to join me, but all of us can play a part in this pilgrimage. Please share this page with young people who you know, pray that they might respond to this invitation and please consider whether you or your PCC might sponsor one or more young people to go (it will cost around £200 per person). Do please let me know and I would be happy to send a personal invitation. My prayer is that this pilgrimage will encourage a generation of young people in their Christian life and witness as together we sing a song for peace.
Rt Revd Graham Usher
The Bishop of Dudley