When the letter from the archbishop of St. Louis arrived in Taizé to invite us to his city for a stage in the pilgrimage of trust, we did not hesitate. A stage in the pilgrimage is always affected by the context in which it takes place. If we want to search together how to rebuild trust, then the pilgrimage acquires its full meaning in places where trust has broken down. The archbishop did not hide the fact that the idea of contacting us came in part from the events in Ferguson, the city outside St. Louis that is part of the archdiocese. Before coming to St. Louis, Archbishop Carlson was a bishop in South Dakota. The meeting we held on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 2013 caught his eye.
When we went to see him, the only condition we set was for the pilgrimage to be prepared with the Churches of all denominations in the St. Louis area. The archbishop was fully in agreement. The responses of the other Churches were encouraging; some of the most committed African-American Church leaders lent their support. For example Rev. Starsky Wilson, who was one of the chairpersons of the Ferguson Commission established after the riots. When you meet him, you immediately think of Brother Roger’s desire to unite “struggle and contemplation.” Rev. Wilson is on the same wavelength and so are many others we have met, as can be seen in the preparation video for the meeting.
Twice we spent a month in St. Louis, the first time in March 2016, simply to listen and try to understand. We visited very different situations, in the poor and abandoned north of the city as well as in more affluent neighborhoods. When we returned in September, we decided it was better not to speak of preparing a pilgrimage of trust in May 2017, but to enter straightaway into the spirit of the pilgrimage. So there arose the idea of holding, between September and May, “evenings of trust.” During these evenings, people meet first for a 45-minute-long prayer. Then the preparation video is shown, then everyone breaks into small groups to share. Before the sharing begins, every group reads aloud a short text that explains the spirit of the conversations. One of our concerns was to include people who have no experience of this kind of conversation, and so it is important to help one another to accept that sometimes we are awkward, vulnerable, or uncomfortable with what is unknown. It also involves the will to open our eyes to reality and not to live in bubbles. Every month there are some questions on the website to foster the sharing.
The Jesuit University of St. Louis will host the weekend. Prayers, workshops and times of sharing will take place during those days. People can register online. We hope to find host families for those who come from outside the area. In the afternoon of Sunday, May 28, the pilgrimage will become more literal: we will walk through the city with people of all generations and backgrounds.
The recent acts of vandalism in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis led to an astonishing reaction in the USA: Muslims took up a collection, gathering a good sum of money to repair the damages, and Christians of all denominations came to clean up the cemetery. A journalist from the principal daily newspaper of the city made the link between these responses and our pilgrimage.