15/01/2013 9:30 am
28 December 2012 - 2 January 2013
By Brother Paolo, Taizé Community
40,000 young adults attended a European meeting in Rome organised by the Taizé community over the New Year. Brother Paolo brings us this report...
Wonderful sunny weather throughout gave the Rome meeting a festive air — even if several thousand of the young people had to stay in very rudimentary accommodation, including makeshift dormitories on the floor in the city’s exhibition halls.
The gathering was ecumenically important — many thousands of the participants were from Protestant or Orthodox Churches — and it had a vibrant, unique character with thousands of young adults attending from many different countries. The great majority were young people aged between 17 and 30.
The largest national group was from Poland with over 11,000 registered. Groups of 2,000 or more came from France, Germany, Croatia, Italy, Ukraine. Registrations came from 53 countries including some from other continents. British participation was small in number but enthusiastic.
One moment each day that brought everyone together was lunchtime at the Circus Maximus. It was transformed into a vast picnic area.
Steve, a young RE teacher in Worthing, helped lead the group available for resolving any problems in the parishes during the meeting. A number of the British contingent participated in the choir group which was essential for keeping the singing together when people gathered for common prayer.
For the early evening prayer with Pope Benedict on Saturday 29 December the number of participants was swelled by Italian groups who had come as day participants. During the course of the afternoon the whole of St. Peter’s Square filled. 45,000 people is probably no exaggeration.
Brother Alois spoke clearly of our desire for unity in the Church:
"Reconciled Christians can become witnesses to peace and communion, bearers of a new solidarity among human beings. Seeking a personal relationship with God is the basis of this approach. This ecumenism of prayer does not encourage a facile tolerance. It promotes a mutual listening which is demanding, and a true dialogue."
In reply, the Holy Father affirmed the ecumenical dimension of the meeting:
"I assure you of the irrevocable commitment of the Catholic Church to continue seeking the paths of reconciliation leading to the visible unity of Christians. And so this evening I greet with special affection those among you who are Orthodox or Protestants."
During the prayer, despite the cold, there was a long moment of silence.
Jane Livesey, General Superior of the Mary Ward Sisters, who was present, writes, "There was almost total silence for the 10 minutes of silent prayer – I wonder if St Peter’s has ever been that quiet before with a such a crowd in it?"
The afternoon workshops were wide-ranging. The Vatican Museums were opened specially for about 3,000 participants. Their visit culminated in a short talk given by one of the brothers in the Sistine Chapel. The young people sang prayerfully as they filed out. Museum staff thanked the visitors saying they'd never had a visit like this before.
Others made pilgrimages to various Catacombs, the burial places of the early Christian communities. The remaining workshops were more usual in format, for example two meetings on themes of science and faith with a Jesuit astronomer. The titles of all the workshops are in the downloadable Meeting Booklet which was given to participants on arrival.
Every day, except for 29 December, evening prayer was held simultaneously in seven of the largest churches in Rome - including the major basilicas, St John Lateran, St Paul outside the Walls and St Mary Major. In each place the prayer was led by some brothers of the Taizé Community and a music group. For some parts of the prayer, when brother Alois spoke for example, the seven churches were linked by radio.
The meeting could not have taken place without the generous help of many religious communities, as well as parishes.
Official Website of the Taizé community