August 19, 2005--Brother Roger, the Swiss Protestant theologian who was slain during evening prayers Tuesday at a service in Taize, France, was well-known as an inspiration to young people who flocked to his ecumenical center in Burgundy by the tens of thousands every year.
Brother Roger, 90, and his fellow monks, including Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics and Orthodox Christians, built bridges among the various Christian faiths. But he above all sought to awaken spirituality among young people growing up in a secular world. The community of monks he founded in 1940 has, in recent years, become a worldwide ecumenical movement.
Before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Brother Roger's group had created prayer circles among Catholics in Poland and Hungary and Protestants in East Germany that proved to be influential during protests in those countries. The Taize prayer groups with their message of peace and conciliation eventually reached into Brazil, South Korea, the United States and elsewhere.
Pope Benedict XVI, who knew Brother Roger, said the "sad and terrifying" news "strikes me even more because just yesterday I received a very moving and very friendly letter from him." The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the spiritual head of the Church of England, said, "Brother Roger was one of the best-loved Christian leaders of our time."
Brother Roger was well-known as both a mystic and a realist, a man with a humble style who was able to attract tens of thousands of followers.
He also became a driving force behind the Roman Catholic Church's annual World Youth Day, which is being held this week in Cologne.
The Taize center drew tens of thousands of pilgrims a year. Although he was seen by many as a guru, he preferred to say, "My brothers and I want to be seen as people who listen, never as spiritual masters."
Although Brother Roger once said that he wanted the Taize group to be a community of 15, it now consists of about 100 monks from more than 20 countries. Its following grew rapidly in the 1980s and '90s, above all, observers agreed, because of his appeal to young people.
Brother Roger shunned doctrine, and he and his fellow monks developed chants that merged the meditative prayers of Christian denominations.