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Taizé meeting in Basel. Fr. Alois: “Surprisingly, young people love silence and prayer”

Twenty thousand young people will take part in the European meeting in Basel (December 28-January 1st) animated by the ecumenical community of Taizé. Silence, prayer and moments of reflection on major topical issues. Many opportunities for sharing and to make friends. Interview with Fr Alois

A sign of hope in the hearts of the young. For Taizé this is the most anticipated “outcome” of the European meeting of young people organized by the ecumenical community in a different European city every year. Basel will be the venue of the 2017 meeting – December 28 to January 1st. Over 15thousand youths are expected to arrive in the Swiss city for the new leg of the “Pilgrimage of faith on earth”, initiated by frère Roger many years ago. “A sign of hope”, Fr Alois, prior of the Taizé community, told SIR. “The future is not easy for young people today. It isn’t easy in our societies, and especially in Europe. We hope this meeting will send a sign of hope.”

Fifteen to twenty thousand young people. An amazing number of youths have decided to devote the last days of the year to meditation and prayer. 
They are arriving to Basel in large numbers, some of them have travelled long distances, even by bus. It’s winter and it won’t be easy. I see it like a pilgrimage. Given such generosity, we expect a deep welcoming spirit, enabling young people to discover the evangelical value whereby unity in Christ has no borders. This is the hope we intend to live out, a communion that encourages us to return to our daily lives and face our difficult moments.

The program envisages moments of prayer, chants, and silence. Do you believe that European youths still enjoy doing these things and that they will be able to “stand the test of silence”? 
In truth, it’s hard to propose silence and prayer to contemporary youths, for they want an experience of friendship before anything else. They will be experiencing it in Basel, sharing five days with their peers from world Countries. Every morning they will come together as a group in the parish; they will walk together to reach the various meeting places located across the city; they will stand on line together for warm meals; and they will all be willing to extend a helping hand. They will get to know one another. In the workshops we will focus their attention also on concrete issues such as social and political problems – from migration to how to live the faith in the workplace and in educational environments. These are questions that young people ask themselves and that we will all address together. All of this leads young people to experience shared moments of silence and prayer. Each time our youth meetings are held – whether in a city or in Taizé – we are surprised in seeing that at the end of the liturgical prayer some of the youths continue to pray. They just stay there in silence, gathered in prayer before the Cross. It’s awe-inspiring.

Silence. We’re together, even thousands of us; and we remain silent together so that each one may find a moment of peace inside and outside himself. It’s a moment when nothing needs to be done; all it requires is our presence: just being there, in God’s presence. That’s the experience we want them to have: to be together in the presence of God. These moments of peace are increasingly rarer for young people whose lives are constantly connected even when they are alone.

What language will you use to address young people so that the message may reach their hearts? 
It will be a message of joy, a joy we hope will never be extinguished. The joy of living. We should ask ourselves what brings joy into our life. This joy doesn’t mean avoiding problems. On the contrary, it encourages us to face difficulties and enables us to listen to the cries of those who are suffering. I will share the experience of my recent trip to South Sudan and Sudan with the young. Even in those Countries marked by severe difficulties and deep suffering I met people who lived moments of deep joy. I have learned that even in difficult situations, when there is solidarity it’s always possible to experience great joy. I would like to speak to young people about the joy of living; a joy that encourages us to face difficulties and challenges and to feel for the suffering of others.

Basel is a city in the heart of Europe. What is the message to Europe of these youths gathered in the name of Taizé?
This meeting is most of all a sign that young people want to live in Europe. They want Europe. They want to travel, meet other people, learn a foreign language, study and work abroad. They want Erasmus to be open not only to students but also to all those applying for internships. It’s a sign that Europe is thriving. Basel is a city linked to three Countries. It’s in a cross-border region shared by Switzerland, France and Germany. Some young people will be welcomed also in France and Germany. For the first time the meeting will be simultaneously held in three Countries. In this way we are showing Europe that there are places in the world that tell us that there is no going back. It is the case of North and South Ireland, united by a bond that Brexit was unable to weaken. These are all clear signs highlighting the continuation of Europe’s construction.

One of the workshops will be animated by Archbishop Job of Telmessos (Ecumenical Patriarchate), co- President of the joint Commission for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. This Commission finds it very heard to reach an agreement on complex theological issues. Do you truly believe that one day the Churches will achieve full unity? What is the preferential path to reach this goal? Archbishop Job’s presence is a beautiful thing, with him there will also be many more Catholic and Protestant bishops. A Catholic and a Protestant bishop will jointly animate a workshop on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It’s beautiful to see Church leaders taking part in this youth meeting in Basel, their presence steps us the bond between theological dialogue – of utmost importance – and contemporary youths who are distant from this theological dialogue. It’s important for young people to learn about the efforts made by theologians to draw the Churches closer and about the extraordinary theological achievements, such as the joint agreement on justification between the Catholic Church and the various Protestant Churches, including the Anglican Church. The European meeting can be a time when two worlds meet: the theological world and the world of young people. The young want to live out this unity. They want to be together, and the meeting of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox youths in Basel is a small token of the unity we all look forward to.

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