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Catholic World News News Feature

Taize founder killed August 17, 2005

Brother Roger, the founder and leader of the ecumenical Taize community, was killed by a knife-wielding attacker during a prayer service in France on August 16.

A Protestant theologian, Roger Schutz was 25 when he first set up an ecumenical house of prayer in Taize, a village near Cluny in eastern France, in 1940. At first the community was a haven for refugees-- particularly Jews escaping the Nazi regime-- during World War II. Over the years, the Taize community became established as an ecumenical monastery, with Brother Roger as its prior, and more than 100 members, including both Catholics and Protestants. The Taize community, dedicated to reconciliation among Christians, attracts thousands of visitors each year, and Brother Rogers' books of prayers and meditations have proved popular among Christians of many different denominations.

Brother Roger was participating in an evening prayer service at a church in Burgundy when he was attacked. More than 2,000 participants witnessed the killing, as an assailant stabbed the 90-year-old Brother Roger in the throat. He died instantly.

Brother Alois, a 51-year-old German Catholic who had been designated by Brother Roger as his successor as head of the Taize community, was in Cologne for World Youth Day at the time of the attack. Brother Alois immediately left Germany to return to the monastery.

Brother Roger had chosen Brother Alois as his successor 8 years ago. He was planning to step down from his post as prior this year, because of his age and declining health. The founder had shown his severe fatigue often in recent months, and frequently appeared in a a wheelchair as his strength failed him.

The assailant, a 36-year-old Romanian woman whose name has not yet been disclosed, was quickly overpowered and taken into custody. Officials reported that the woman appeared to be disoriented.

At his regular weekly public audience on Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI said that the news of Brother Roger's death "touches me all the more in that only yesterday I received a moving letter from him." In the letter, the Taize founder expressed his sorry that he would not be able to attend World Youth Day because of his failing health.

Other Church leaders joined in paying homage to the ecumenical pioneer. Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, the president of the French bishops' conference, said that Brother Roger had been a "great figure of a searcher and witness to God, with a passion for unity and reconciliation among Christians." From Cologne, Msgr. Heiner Koch, the secretary-general of the German bishops' conference, called Brother Roger a "great figure" of the ecumenical age, and said that he would be remembered prayerfully during World Youth Day. Msgr. Koch added that he was grateful Brother Roger had been able to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne said that the WYD participants would remember Brother Roger "with great appreciation and sorrow." Bishop Franz Dietel, a Munich auxiliary, said that the death would be "a great loss to the ecumenical movement, because he was a builder of bridges, not only between Catholics and Protestants, but for all confessions and religions." Msgr. Noel Treanor, the secretary-general of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, released a tribute noting that the vision of Taize's founder "touched the hearts and minids of many in Europe and across the world, and resonated particularly with the youth."

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