Each week, one evening after prayer, we meet for a time in the church. This meeting is usually held on Thursday, but we had to move it to today. This is because, although you have just arrived, I must unfortunately already say goodbye. I regret this all the more since this week is unique and special. I would have liked to have spent it with you.
Tomorrow afternoon, I will leave for Africa because on Wednesday an international youth meeting begins in Cotonou, Benin, the fourth African stage of our pilgrimage of trust after Johannesburg in 1995, Nairobi in 2008 and Kigali in 2012. Ten our brothers are already there, with sisters of Saint Andrew and young volunteers.
In Cotonou, nearly 8,000 young people will spend five days together. They will come from Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and many other African countries, with a small group of Europeans as well. They will be welcomed by parishes and housed in families. And we will be gathering under a large tent for the prayers.
The title of the meeting is: “Seeking Paths of Hope Together.” We want this meeting to be a time of hope for the future, by emphasizing the immense creative potential that is present today in African youth.
We will be very attentive to the young Africans we meet. I hope that they will inspire us to find out which questions will form the basis of the meetings next year in Taizé and elsewhere across the continents.
One of the fundamental issues that will be addressed in Cotonou will be this: in order to open paths of hope, how can we leave behind passive waiting, a passivity that looks for change from the outside, from above?
It is true that so many situations obscure the message of peace and solidarity of the Gospel. Some are sometimes overwhelmed by a feeling of powerlessness in the face of injustices and threats that weigh upon the future. Many young Africans ask: what will I be able to earn in the future, for myself and my family?
But, through my African brothers, and others as well, I know there are more and more young people in Africa who are taking responsibility for their future. During this meeting, they will seek together what commitments are within the reach of everyone. They will seek to support each other in their groups, their movements, their Churches.
This evening I want to tell you what I prepared to say on the last day of the Cotonou meeting, because this is also true for us in Europe. I will tell them: the pilgrimage does not end when a meeting is over. Everyone is called to continue in their everyday life, in their country. Continuing means at least two things.
First, continuing to deepen our faith. We need more personal conviction to follow Christ. It is not only a matter of observing a practice but it means taking over and over again a decision to believe in Christ personally. Who is Christ for me? What is he calling me to?
Second, continuing the pilgrimage in daily life means becoming pilgrims of hope and trust among those around us. How can we share the hope of Christ that we draw from prayer with others in the face of the complexity of the problems—the great poverty, the injustices, the threats of conflict?
God is love, and the Gospel calls us to bear witness by our lives to God’s compassion, to awaken in us the courage of mercy.
Mercy is not just a feeling, we need courage to reach out to others, beyond the borders and divisions between humans, to create communion, to approach particularly the situations of distress that we encounter along our way.
When you return home, see what division you would like to overcome, what gesture of solidarity you would like to accomplish. Dare to take a step towards others. There will be surprises, perhaps difficult ones, but I am sure you will also find deep joy.
And I will conclude the meeting in Cotonou by a promise that I am already beginning to keep this evening. I will assure them that, back in Europe, I will invite young Europeans to listen to the demands of many Africans who aspire to greater justice in international political and economic relations. Responding to these demands is a condition for young Africans to calmly consider contributing to the construction of the future in their homelands.
And now, a final word. During this week in Taizé when you are reflecting on how to commit your life to following Christ, you will probably speak particularly about the issues raised by the huge wave of migrants and refugees in Europe.
In Taizé we have three families from Iraq and Syria, with their children, and a group of young men from Sudan and Afghanistan. Hassan will speak to us.
Hassan: Good evening, my name is Hassan, I am Sudanese, and I am 26 years old. I spent my childhood in a small village in Darfur. I lived with my parents and five siblings on a large farm with lots of goats and sheep. Life was good.
But in 2003 the war broke out and life became very difficult. In 2011 my village was bombed and my mother and one of my brothers were killed. I went to live with my grandfather, who taught in a Koranic school. In 2014 the village was also attacked and killed.
Then, the army arrested me, falsely accusing me of belonging to movements opposed to the government. When I was released, my uncle told me that my father had been killed and I had to run away.
I feared for my life and I left for Libya. After four terrible months in that country, I took a boat to Europe. I arrived with nothing and I was looking for protection, housing, food ... I was very lucky to find it in Taizé! Here I found a new family.
I had never met Christians, I only knew through what the Qur’an says. In the Qur’an we read that there are different paths to God and that we must live together in peace with people of other religions. At Taizé I live this in a very concrete way and I have discovered that it is very easy.
We know that in all religions there may be terrorists. Today there are people who use Islam as a pretext for war. In fact they distort our religion. Islam, like Christianity, is a religion of peace.
Cris: There are flowers for those from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Mexico.
For those from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Chad, Sudan, Senegal and Egypt.
For those from Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Finland and Sweden.
For those from Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Britain and Ireland.
For those from Ukraine, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland and France.’
For those from Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
For those from Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada.
For those from Korea, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.