These meetings are the result of a long friendship between the Taizé Community and the Church in Algeria, dating from the 1950s when several brothers stayed there, sharing the life of people living in shanty towns. When the country became independent, and with the growing demands of the welcome at Taizé, the brothers returned to France.
Since that time the links have never been broken! These links have been reinforced by the participation in the meetings for young people at Taizé of students from sub-Saharan Africa, studying in Algeria. Some years there have been sixty or so in a week – who had all been able to cross the Mediterranean to join the other young people on the hill.
For many of them, making this journey and meeting young people from other continents was a big breath of fresh air. Living as strangers in a country with a culture very different from their own, and as Christians living in a Muslim society, their situation was not always easy to live. Of course, free expression of their faith was only possible for them under certain conditions. They therefore had to be extremely discreet about that which animated them in depth.
Over the years, administrative difficulties complicated the journey towards France and thus affected the welcome of these students at Taizé, and we had to find how to continue to express our solidarity with them. One idea helped us to overcome the obstacles: to begin by doing the little that we could do. Thus was born the idea of continuing to meet together during the summer, but in Algeria. Viewed from Europe, this might seem fairly simple, but in the reality of the country this was not at all the case. At first, the idea was to bring together a small group of fifty or so for a week, to pray and share together. Today Taizé-Tiemcen has become a fixed meeting point for numerous sub-Saharan students who are studying in Algeria. From year to year, the number of young people participating in these weeks has not stopped growing, in response to the young people’s real thirst to meet together around Christ. These meetings have been organised in close collaboration with the Church there.
Throughout the week the students have been linked to the thousands of young people present in Taizé, by the same prayer and the same songs. Moreover, the presence of a young volunteer from Taizé brought the participants closer to life on the hill. In the following lines, he shares with us his impressions of the week.
This is an important time for me during the day, which allows one to get back the essential – which is Jesus. His peace accompanies us, notably through the songs. For me, this is the main link with Taizé.
It is important that each person contributes to the practical tasks which make a common life possible. This is equally a time for meeting, discussion and sharing.
Taking part together in the cleaning, the cooking, the meal distribution or the washing up, brings us closer to each other. It even happens that we cry together….. while peeling onions! The leaders set a good example and play an important role in animating the group and helping each person feel at ease.
Bible introduction, Sharing times, and Workshops
These times allow the participants to reflect and question themselves about their faith. The bible introductions allowed us to tackle texts from the Gospels, to ask ourselves questions about their meaning and to have the guidance of people who could shed light on this subject. Some people told me that these times of reflection had allowed them to deepen their view of the Scriptures.
The sharing groups were an occasion when each person could express themselves and share in depth. One could speak of one’s faith, of questions one had about religion, of one’s experiences…
In everyday life one rarely has the opportunity – especially in Algeria – to speak freely, without fear of the other person’s point of view, or of their spirituality. For some people it was even the first time they could. For me, it was enriching to discuss with young Christians from various countries. The diversity of the sharing groups was a treasure.
The subjects of the workshops were of great interest to the young people; there were animated exchanges and debate. I also noticed that the people organising these workshops allowed each person to express themselves and created an atmosphere of listening.
The sporting activities were equally an opportunity for people to meet together and share time together, both for those taking part and for the spectators.
Simplicity, peace and joy: for me, these are the three words that come to mind when I think of Taizé-Tiemcen. It is really important to stay simple, to appreciate what surrounds us and what we have: to try not to seek more material comfort, but rather to come closer to other people and to God.