At the beginning of September 2016, a stage in the pilgrimage of trust brought together 7500 young Africans in Cotonou, Benin. (1) The theme of this gathering will continue to inspire us throughout the year 2017: together—not alone, but supported by one another—we can open paths of hope—in ourselves, around us and for the human family.
One of the questions asked at Cotonou was this: “To nourish our hope, how can we leave behind a passive attitude where we are content to wait for change from the outside? What forms of commitment are within everyone’s reach?”
It is urgent for those from other continents to listen to the many Africans who aspire to greater justice in political and economic relations: that is one of the conditions for them to realistically envisage building a future in their own countries.
In order to prepare their future, more and more young people in Africa want to make use of the great creative potential that is in them. They will then be able to awaken the courage of young people in other parts of the world who are experiencing similar situations.
In order to continue, at Taizé and elsewhere, the reflection begun in Cotonou, here are four proposals that will lead us to open paths of hope.
We will try to find ways of discovering how to put these proposals into practice with simplicity, one of the three realities—together with joy and mercy—that Brother Roger wanted to set at the heart of the life of the Taizé Community.
(1) After Johannesburg (1995), Nairobi (2008) and Kigali (2012), this fourth African stage of the pilgrimage of trust on earth was organized in Cotonou, Benin, from August 31 to September 4, at the invitation of the Catholic and Methodist Churches of the country. In addition to those from Benin itself, the 7500 participants came mainly from Togo (800), Nigeria (550), Ghana (100), Burkina Faso (160) and Ivory Coast (50). Twenty African countries were represented in all, and there were also sixty Europeans present from fifteen different countries. The French, English and Fon languages were used in the workshops and forums, and the liturgy also included songs in Yoruba and Mina.
First proposal: Stand firm in hope: it is creativity
Hoping against all hope, Abraham believed and so became the father of many nations. (Romans 4:18)This hope is an anchor for our soul. It is firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:19)Anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Luke 18:17)
In the instability of today’s world, we are disconcerted by violence, suffering and injustices. All creation is groaning, as if it were undergoing the pain of childbirth. The Holy Spirit is also groaning, yet this same Spirit is the support of our hope (see Romans 8:22,26). So what can we do?
Faith is a simple trust in God. It does not offer ready-made answers, but makes it possible for us not to be paralyzed by fear or discouragement. It leads us to get involved, and sets us on the road. Through it we realize that the Gospel opens a vast horizon of hope beyond all our hopes.
This hope is not a facile optimism that shuts its eyes to reality, but an anchor cast into God. It is creativity. Signs of it are already found in the most unhoped-for places on earth.
- Will we dare to believe in the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in the world? Can we rely on this presence, even if it is invisible?
- May our faith remain simple, like the trust of children! This does not mean watering down the content of the faith, but holding fast to what is at its centre—God’s love for humanity and for all creation. The Bible tells the story of this, from the freshness of its beginnings through all obstacles, and even human unfaithfulness. God never tires of loving: may this message keep hope alive in us!
- To allow ourselves and those close to us to be permeated by this message, we need to come together more often to pray. The simple beauty of prayer reflects something of the mystery of God and can lead to a personal encounter with God.
Second proposal: Simplify our lives in order to share
Jesus said: I am gentle and humble in heart. (Matthew 11:29)You have received freely; give freely. (Matthew 10:8)Jesus said to a rich young man: Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor…. Then come, follow me. (Matthew 19:21)
Acquisitiveness—the race for money and success—leads to injustice and frustrations. A spirit of sharing, which the Gospel invites us to develop, is one of the paths of hope that we need to open today.
Choosing a simple life is a source of freedom and joy. Then life becomes less burdensome. Simplicity implies transparency of heart. Although it is not gullible, it refuses to mistrust. It is the opposite of duplicity. It enables us to enter into dialogue, without fear, with everyone we meet. Jesus’ life is an example of this.
- As far as material things are concerned, let us strive continually to lead a simpler life. This will inspire in us acts of sharing in the face of human suffering, humiliating poverty, the trials of migrants, or conflicts across the world.
- Let us find ways to support one another in realizing courageous signs of hope in our neighbourhoods, in the places where we work or study, by means of social or environmental commitments.
- How can we live in greater harmony with creation through a simple and uncluttered lifestyle, contributing in this way to the struggle against ecological disasters and global warming? This fight is not only for the leaders of nations; everyone can, for example, consume more local products, use public transport more…
- Can this question remain alive in our hearts: am I ready to follow Christ, the One who is gentle and humble of heart, choosing to belong to him forever in the simplicity of a yes, in a spirit of generosity?
Third proposal: Come together to allow the dynamism of the Gospel to be revealed
Every day the first believers continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. (Acts 2:46)There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. (1 Corinthians 12:4–5)Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
The Bible tells the story of two men, Peter and Cornelius, who were deeply opposed on all counts, but who met one another and in so doing discovered a truth previously unknown to either of them. They needed to be together in order to understand that the Holy Spirit brings down walls and unites those who thought they were strangers. The dynamism of the Gospel is only revealed when we are together. (Read chapters 10 and 11 of the Acts of the Apostles.)
When Christians are divided, between denominations or within the same Church, the Gospel message is obscured. Will we be able to walk together without letting our differences separate us? If we, as Christians, find a way to show that unity is possible in our diversity, we will help all humanity to be a more united family.
- Christ unites in one community men and women, children and elderly people, of all horizons, languages and cultures, and even those from nations historically opposed. Let us find simple ways to show this in the places where we live.
- To remain alive, every community is called to go out of itself. Can we develop an attitude of hospitality, in the image of God, towards Christians who have positions very different from our own? Such openness of heart requires an effort of “translation,” since different beliefs and convictions can be like languages foreign to one another.
- Even if the memory of mutual intolerance among Christians separated over the course of history remains alive and not all the threads can be untangled, will we dare to welcome each other anyway, by forgiving, and without trying to establish who was right or who was wrong? There is no reconciliation without sacrifice.
- Hospitality goes hand in hand with recognizing the otherness of others. When their beliefs remain incomprehensible to us, we can at least be attentive to their authenticity. There should be a festive element in the discovery of others!
Fourth proposal: Allow friendship to grow in order to prepare peace
Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11)Jesus said: You have one Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And do not call anyone on earth “father,” for you have one Father, the one in heaven. (Matthew 23:8–9) He also said: Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (Matthew 12:50)People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the banquet in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29)
Contributing to peace and to international justice is another path of hope that we can open today.
Peace on earth begins in the heart of each person. It is first of all our hearts that have to be changed, and this change involves a simple conversion—allowing God’s Spirit to dwell within us, welcoming a peace that will spread out and be communicated from one person to another. “Achieve inner peace and thousands around you will be saved.” (Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian monk, 1759–1833.)
- With our own lives let us write the new pages of a simple solidarity that goes beyond partitions and walls: physical walls constructed in different parts of the world as well as walls of ignorance, prejudice and ideology. Let us be open to other cultures and mentalities.
- We cannot allow the rejection of foreigners to enter our hearts, for the refusal of others is the seed of barbarism. Instead of seeing foreigners as a threat to our standard of living or our culture, can we welcome them as members of the same human family? Why not go to visit refugees, simply to get to know them and to listen to their stories? Then—who knows?—other steps of solidarity may follow.
- How can we get to know others who are different from us? And share with those who think differently, in a dialogue where we really listen to one another, without getting into arguments even before having understood the other person. Can we find ways of remaining present in places of division, and of building bridges? Let us pray for those whom we do not understand and who do not understand us.
- Signs of solidarity can be multiplied beyond the borders of religion. Meeting believers of other religions encourages us to deepen our knowledge of our own faith, while asking ourselves what God wants to tell us and to give us through these brothers and sisters who are so different from us.