In March, two volunteers, Adeline (Germany) and Maria (Spain) travelled widely in England for two weeks. They visited 18 schools and took part in an evening prayer at the University of Bath.
- After the prayer at Bath University
At the same time, a brother of the community was in Britain. Highlights of his journey were the evening prayers in Cambridge (St. Edmund’s Church), Norwich (Catholic Cathedral), Birmingham (Anglican Cathedral), York University and in London (Heythrop College, and in St Alban’s Church, Holborn). There were three meetings with headteachers / chaplains / school coordinators in Salisbury and in Birmingham to talk about the School and College Weeks at Taizé. Several new schools are planning to participate in 2013 and 2014. The Jerusalem Trust has offered a grant for a documentary film to be made of the School and College Weeks and this will be made in 2014.
On 21 March, brother Alois came to Canterbury to participate in the inaugural service of Archbishop Justin Welby.
- Archbishop Justin Welby and brother Alois, 22 March 2013
©Picture Partnership/Lambeth Palace
Visits in November 2012
- In St Joseph’s Anglican and Catholic High School, Wrexham, North Wales
Two pairs of volunteers from France and Germany, Lea and Maélis, then Alice and Miriam, made visits to 31 schools and 6th-form colleges which are hoping to participate in the 2013 School and College Weeks.
- Alice and Miriam
Also in November, at the invitation of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, two young people presented the international meetings at Taizé to the Conference of Scottish Catholic Secondary School Headteachers in Edinburgh.
School visits in February and March
In February and March, Ania and Ute, two of the long-stay volunteers at Taizé visited 17 secondary schools in preparation for the 2012 School Weeks in July.
My 10-day journey in England began at Canterbury Christ Church University. The university was originally built as a Church teacher-training college, and the chapel is one of the central buildings. When I arrived, the chaplain and a few students and staff were there, in the middle of daily morning prayer.
In 2010 more than 21,000 eighteen year olds in England took the Religious Studies A-level (school-leaving exam) – a 50% increase over 5 years. At the meeting with students who are training to become teachers of the subject, we spoke first about the common misconception is that to “be religious” is like climbing into a box which filters your experience of the world, as if you are not really open to life because you have accepted a set of pre-defined answers with which to respond to the situations you encounter.
When we realise that life is not something we can observe from outside as if we were disembodied, but rather that we are part of something much greater, then a religious outlook becomes possible. From that moment a kind of receptivity becomes basic in our outlook. For the Bible, we could even say that this is the fundamental world-view: God takes the initiative, we are responding beings before we are initiators.
- Prayer in Manchester Cathedral
After a presentation of the young adult meetings at Taizé, we were invited to gather for a midday prayer in the chapel. To our surprise more than 60 came to this quite long lunchtime prayer.
The meeting in Canterbury proved to be a good preparation for the following weekend when I participated in a conference for Religious Studies teachers. The organisers had asked for workshops about the international youth meetings at Taizé to be included in the programme. Teachers of Religious Studies in schools may be Christians, or of other faiths or not profess any faith, but for the subject it is important for religion not to be thought of as a system of ready-made answers. The subject is partly a study of different faith communities, their practice and history, but it also encourages students to consider the “big questions” of life – a phrase that I heard several times.
A week later in Manchester there was a gathering for students organised jointly with the Student Christian Movement. Brother Alois’ question in the Letter from China, “What are you doing with your freedom?” set the theme for the whole weekend and similar questions arose again: recently, in Westminster Cathedral, pope Benedict said, “One of the greatest challenges facing us today is how to speak convincingly of the wisdom and liberating power of God’s word to a world which all too often sees the Gospel as a constriction of human freedom (...)” This challenge is perhaps not just about how we tell others, it is also often difficult for us to sense that faith gives us freedom. As we face our inner questioning, and the choices we need to make, the thought may sometimes cross our mind: If only I didn’t have all these questions, hesitations – wouldn’t my life be less complicated, wouldn’t I be happier? But let us never regret the questioning and searching we have! It is a gift, not a problem. It may mean that life is difficult, but it is only with that searching inside that life can ever become beautiful and meaningful.
- The candles with the light of the resurrection, Manchester Cathedral
In Bristol it was fascinating to see the way in which chaplains in the multi-faith university chaplaincy cooperate. Soon after the daily 5 pm Christian prayer, the same room was being used for a meeting of Hindu students. In Bath, Keele and Durham there were also evening prayers with students. In Keele, the 10 pm night prayer was part of a week organised by the chaplains to invite students to use the university chapel, which stands right in the middle of the campus. The whole week was possible because of the unusual degree of friendship and cooperation which has been built between the various Christian groups in the university. In Durham the idea was to hold a mini-retreat involving not only an evening prayer, but a talk on the disciples’ request to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray”, and then a prayer followed by breakfast the next day. Everyone was surprised, I think, when a good number of students were in the church for the 8 am morning prayer!
The high point of the Manchester weekend was the Saturday evening prayer in Manchester Cathedral, where the staff welcomed us warmly and let us search everywhere in the building to collect kneelers, cushions, rugs, and prayer stools. They were all used! Around 250 people participated in the prayer. One of the university chaplains gave a bible meditation on the words of St Paul to Timothy: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God (...) for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-control.” This short reading was read in a dozen languages by the students participating in the weekend.
On the Sunday morning there was a short “forum” time when Grace from Ghana, Nebojša from Serbia and Ramail from Pakistan, now all students in England, shared experiences and thought from their countries. Then Anna, a young artist from London, who had led the creative workshop the day before on the theme “the responsibility to enjoy the world” introduced us to some questions linking faith and art. Later that morning the Sunday morning eucharist was celebrated in Mandarin and English in St Peter’s Chaplaincy.