Exchanges between Taizé and India go back many years: with Taizé brothers and young volunteers going to India and young Indians going to Taizé.
It was after the first Taizé meeting in Madras in 1985 that groups of young people from the sub continent started arriving in Taizé. They come from all parts of the Indian Union and they reflect the diversity of the cultures represented in this vast country. Catholics, Orthodox, Church of South India, Church of North India, Martoma, Lutherans and Baptists, they are chosen by their local churches or by Indian youth movements to spend the duration of a three month visa in Taizé. Taking part in the international meetings and sharing in the responsibility for the daily running of these meetings, their presence in Taizé is above all to share with the young people from many countries how the faith is lived at home in India, with the challenges and the questions that that represents at the present time of great changes in Indian society.
Commenting on his time in Taizé, a former national secretary of AICUF (All India Catholic University Federation) writes, “I think my discovery in Taizé was silence. Every day, during each of the three times of prayer, morning, noon and evening, there is quite a long time of silence. During the first week, I did not know what to think of it or what to do with it. So I spent most of the time thinking about something else! But gradually I discovered that this was an important time for me to think and to reflect about my life, about where I am here in this world.”
Eddie Edezhath writes: “Every year some youth leaders from the ‘Jesus Youth’ movement visit the community and live there for a few months. It is a time of refreshment and deepening for them. They come back with a new light and fresh enthusiasm, and in turn contribute much to the life of this fellowship.”
The meetings in Madras
The international meetings in Chennai (Madras) in 1985 and 1988 were outstanding events for everyone who took part in them. Each of them brought together several thousand young Indians – from throughout the country and from many churches … as well as young adults from other Asian countries and even farther afield. With the tomb of Saint Thomas the Apostle in the Cathedral of Madras-Mylapore, Christianity in Madras goes back to the earliest times and today the Christian community there is one of the largest in India.
In 1991, the Youth Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India wrote, “The significant event of 1985 was the international meeting held by the Taizé brothers at Madras in collaboration with the CBCI. It was the first time in the history of the Church in India that so many young people were gathered together. A natural outcome of this meeting was the renewal of youth activity everywhere.”
Eddie adds: “In Madras, movements from different faith traditions spontaneously started interacting. Suspicions have given way to trust. Many joint initiatives have gradually taken shape. But more than this, very joyful and intimate relationships have grown up.”
Following the first Madras meeting, Revd Azariah, General Secretary of the Church of South India, wrote, “A new missionary challenge must emerge from a very recent event organized by the brothers of Taizé in Madras from 27 December 1984 to 1 January 1985: the “pilgrimage of trust on earth”, with 10,000 young people from all over the world.”
And in October 1995, the Findings of the National Catholic Youth Survey said: “The Taizé brothers, through their “pilgrimages of trust and reconciliation” have never ceased to accompany Indian youth and they have greatly contributed to the renewal of youth apostolate in this country”.
Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, a former long-time president of the Evangelisation Commission of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, writes, “Taizé is reawakening Asia to its own spiritual identity and is building bridges between cultures, welding sensitivities together and pointing to the inner springs.”
What has happened since the Madras meetings? Through the years, there have been meetings of many different kinds and too numerous to mention; from Assam to Tamil Nadu, from Meghalaya to Kerala. In 1996, the “Pilgrimage of trust in Ranchi” brought together several hundred young adults from Gumla, Hazaribagh, Simdega, Dumka, and Muzzafarpur. In 2001, there was a similar event in Andhra Pradesh.
“In 2000, for three weeks, several young Indians and one of the Taizé brothers travelled across India, leading meetings and times of prayer. Invitations went out to all who wished to join them, beyond the barriers of language, caste, religion and generations. The stations on the pilgrimage had been chosen for their diversity: the centre of the national capital, New Delhi, and the outskirts of a major city, Vasai; a metropolis, Mumbai, and a village, Dornakal; a quiet place, Brotherhood House, and a place of great popular gatherings, Vellankani.”
All of the meetings have as their general theme, “Inner life and human solidarity”. Sometimes it is possible to give practical expression to the search for solidarity. Following the earthquake in Gujurat in January 2001, in collaboration with Taizé, the regional youth director and two young people from AP went to Gujurat to see what was happening in the devastated areas. The visit resulted in a gesture of material support for some of the families who had lost everything in the earthquake.
A regular feature has been gatherings for youth who have been to Taizé; with the accent on following up the experience in Taizé in people’s own homes and environments. Eddie writes: “In many of the quieter Taizé meetings in our country, there have been opportunities for youth leaders to not only to come together to pray and reflect, but also to be challenged to express human solidarity to their neighbours. This sense of Christian brotherly commitment has grown to become a whole lifestyle for many. It has added a new dimension to our movements.”
Brothers are frequently asked to take part and to lead prayer during the course of one or other of the national conventions for the youth of the various churches.
Kolkata (Calcutta) has a very special place in the hearts of many of the Taizé brothers. In autumn 2006, it will be 30 years since Brother Roger first came and lived for a time close by Mother Teresa. At different times in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, small fraternities of brothers lived in Calcutta for longer periods, but it was in late 1976 that Brother Roger came, with a group of brothers and a team of young adults representing all the continents: it was there that he wrote the first of what was to become the yearly “letters of Brother Roger” addressed to young people:
“Mingling with the lament that rises from the hurts of so many people, there is another melody, a song full of hope. That melody, still muted and hidden, is the song of a communion promised to all humankind.”
Brother Roger was back again in 1997 for the funeral of Mother Teresa, and, in spite of the sadness of the occasion, he was filled with joy at being able to visit India and Calcutta once again. He stayed in the same place as his previous visit, and was able to discover the neighbourhood again and meet some of the people he had met all these years before. He stayed with the same family; and each evening there was prayer at the house.
For the 5 to 9 October 2006 meeting in Kolkata, Brother Alois, the new prior of Taizé, will be present, together with several of the brothers. This meeting will be an important new stage in the pilgrimage of trust in India.