Murder of French religious leader shocks world

17th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

TAIZE, France, Aug 17 (AFP) – The French-based ecumenical Taizé community tried to pick up the pieces Wednesday after the fatal stabbing of its popular 90-year-old founder, casting a shadow over a global Catholic youth festival starting in Germany.

TAIZE, France, Aug 17 (AFP) – The French-based ecumenical Taizé community tried to pick up the pieces Wednesday after the fatal stabbing of its popular 90-year-old founder, casting a shadow over a global Catholic youth festival starting in Germany.

Brother Roger Schutz was killed late Tuesday in his Reconciliation church in Taizé, in eastern France's Burgundy region, during an evening prayer service. Roger was attacked with a knife during a service attended by some 2,500 young people.

He was seriously wounded and died from his wounds despite immediate help by rescuers, a community member told AFP.

Police said that a 36-year-old Romanian woman was detained as a suspect. Police said the suspect hit the community founder three times in the back before she could be overpowered.

A state prosecutor, Jean-Louis Coste, told a press conference that the Romanian woman, whom he identified by her first name Luminita, had apparently attacked Schutz "to attract attention but didn't want to kill him," he said.

He said she had tried unsuccessfully to speak with him beforehand, adding that an initial psychiatric evaluation did not suggest she should be committed to a mental institution.

Another community brother said followers had noted her showing signs of "psychological problems" and that she had arrived in Taizé two days earlier.

Brother Roger's funeral service is to take place next Tuesday, in the church where he was stabbed, and he is to be buried in the cemetery of Taizé.

Messages of sadness came from Pope Benedict XVI, French government ministers and other dignitaries.

Brother Roger is replaced by his nominated successor, Brother Alois Leser, a 51-year-old German Catholic who arrived Wednesday to take over the Taizé group.

The Taizé movement started during World War II, when Swiss-born theologian Roger Schutz, living in Taizé, provided a refuge for those fleeing the conflict, irrespective of their religion.

Roger, a Protestant with a degree in theology, devoted his life to the reconciliation between Christian denominations.

He arrived in the village of Taizé, near Cluny, in 1940 at the age of 25 planning to found a religious community.

Started as a Christian men's monastic order focused on meditation and prayer, Taizé has developed over the years into an international pilgrimage site where thousands of people sing, pray and reflect on their beliefs.

The Taizé community groups members of several Christian denominations from some 30 countries and welcomes tens of thousands of young people every year.

Sources close to the 100-strong group said Brother Roger was about to give up his community functions later this year because of his advanced age. Recently he had suffered from fatigue and often used a wheelchair.

Brother Alois, a 51-year-old German Catholic, was chosen by Brother Roger as his heir-apparent eight years ago and was returning from the World Youth Day jamboree in Cologne to take his place, a community spokesman said.

Brother Alois had been a member of the Taizé group for 32 years and travelled widely in eastern Europe for the community, spokesman Brother Emile said.

Overnight here at the community many young people remained meditating in the church while others wandered around outside, shocked and haggard.

Pope Benedict XVI voiced his sadness at the news during an audience Wednesday at his summer retreat of Castel Gandolfo.

"It is a very sad piece of news which touches me all the more in that I received only yesterday a moving letter from him," the pontiff said.

In the letter, Schutz said he was thinking of the pope and those attending the Catholic World Youth Days festival in Cologne, Germany, the pontiff said.

In Cologne, news of Brother Roger's death provoked consternation among the hundreds of thousands of young Catholics present for the festival, to be attended by Pope Benedict on Thursday.

"All the participants in World Youth Day are praying for this great figure. We express our deep compassion to the Taizé community," one of the organisers, Prelate Heiner Koch, said in a statement.

"The news spread like wildfire in our group," said Marie-Pierre Cockenpot, in charge of a group of 300 young French people at Cologne who often went to Taizé.

"Many were crying, some wanted to leave, saying they didn't have the heart to go on with the festival but we told them Brother Roger would have wanted it to continue," she added.

The president of the French Bishops' Conference, Archbishop of Bordeaux Jean-Pierre Ricard, wrote to the Taizé community expressing his "deep grief" after the murder of "this great figure of a researcher and witness of God, impassioned by unity among Christians and reconciliation."

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Schutz "will remain in our memories as a towering figure of our religious history," while Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the "atrocious and cowardly act."

Roger was awarded the UNESCO prize for peace education in 1988 and is the author of many books on prayer and reflection, asking young people to be confident and committed.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, crime, murder, Taizé, religion, Brother Roger, Brother Alois, Pope Benedict, Cologne

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