About Taize I was hearing first in Saint Adalbert Church in Bialystok. It was 1985. It was time when atmosphere of fear was hanging still in the air, but big patriotism and religious activity of the people. It is why so called weeks of Catholic Culture were so popular these days. It was really something like "getting free message by small window in big China". That message of freedom in soul was given by church to so many people these days looking for hope.
We were hearing famous historians talking us truth histories without ideological censuring; we were looking religious movies, hearing best actors reciting nice religious and patriotic poetries. Once, some young man was talking about his staying in London during Taize New Year retreats.
As seminarian I was studying more and more Latin canons from Taize and participating in summer youth retreats. These Christian camps were also organized in atmosphere of Taize village. Finally I was twice in Taize as young priest and I got personal experience of that place. I wish to share my memories.
Small village in South France, during II World War brother Roger has gone to start his prayerful penitence. His opinion was that Christians who are divided on separated denominations are so weak that have no power to influence politicians and avoid active way wars and other evils in contemporary way. So he was planning pray for unity of Christians as medicine to get back peace in the world. He fined a place in small village in the south France near Lyon city. Taize was 10 km from old and famous Cluny. Perhaps he wished to attract attention of all Christian to that so important for restoring spirituality of Europe place. In Cluny happened in middle Ages kind of very successful reformation in the middle of the church. Benedictines had here kind of independent abbacy with str4ong statutes and very educated people. They influenced all the Europe by their writings and style of being, their discipline. You may imagine visiting the place how grate people they were.
After French Revolution we have only ruins now. It is also good metaphor about today's condition of Christianity.
The land in these places has red color. Farms look rich and people for sure is good working here, but the streets and houses looks a bit sleepy, like the people has gone somewhere. Very small traffic and big hot in summer time. The stone made walls around possessions small symbolic, better say decorative. Grass ever short size like in golf fields, villages and even cities looks like living ethnographic museum for somebody who first came from the East. Nice cars and phone points at any crossing testify that place is modern and rich.
The city of the youth is also very clean and nice, well organized. Big number of tenths, barracks, bells, church few times rebuilt to contain more and more people willing pray together. Dozens of Buses in the parking place.
In the middle of the church like in theatre, the floor is high near the entrance and law near altar place. On the floor nice and clean artificial covers. Central part near to altar has dry flowers in the wooden decorative boxes, it is a sector for brothers which dress white albs during a prayer "sitting on knees" on Carmelite law prayerful seats. Bells are used 3 times a day to call all the people on prayer. Some people in silence take shields with big hand made inscriptions in many languages: SILENCE. Other volunteers give material to close hands and legs if somebody is dressed incorrect way.
Taize looks like polish shrine in Czestokhova in pilgrimage time especially in July and August month. We have these months more youngsters coming on foot from all over the country than citizens (Czestokhova has 200.000 people and pilgrims each year walking we have about 250.000). In Taize like in Czestokhova you may hear mostly polish language. It is difficult to explain why Brother Roger is more popular in Poland than in France or native Suisse. I was also surprise that being all the week in France I was mostly using polish or English but never French. I wish talk about these other nationalities to explain very special atmosphere here.
Pope John Paul II was telling once being here that Taize is like spring of the church and clean water river, which you has to drink. Brother Roger is very welcomed and respectful man; he has his followers in many countries of Europe and also other continents. His voice is tired and old; he read his prayers and talks in many languages with strong French accent. Each year he is preparing kind of apostolic letter to youth in Europe. The letter is send all over the world and during summer retreats is a subject of discussions in small groups.
All the people who came to Taize have to belong to some specific group as: Biblical, Meditation, Working group, Liturgical, Kitchen...people is serving each other to make life in so big group (each week about 3000 people)easy and harmonious.
People is working in toilets, garden, printing house. Hundred of brothers without being apodictic or nervous silently and very kind way teach with help of permanent volunteers how to behave here to keep prayerful atmosphere during all the day.
Youngsters really behave nicely and many of them during evening prayer take microphone to continue singing motives of some canons which brothers started at 8 PM...until 12PM. People go sleep slowly. Not easy to stop the trans. Center of prayer is Franciscan Cross close to altar. The only sources of light are candles here. Sometime you may hear organ music also as accompaniment to songs.
I was very shocked by decoration of altar. The only decorations in Presbytery were yellow curtains and some bricks like waiting we start to build something. I still do not know what have symbolized such design. Nobody was telling us.
As priest I was feeling me a bit loosed. I was accustomed in Poland to be in center of attention as priest. Brothers were treating every participant of retreats same way. There was no single privilege for so many priests coming with each group from Poland. We were waiting for food in the same line as others and working or meditating as participants not as leaders at all. Praying Mass was private thing of every group. Small chapel in the underground was available during all the day.
Taize is for myself some kind of question without answer. To tell you about some difficulties I wish to inform that in the camp existed special group which controlled youngsters to be on place, because sometime temptation to go and visit close city was very big. Some of people preferred to enjoy visit in France as tourist story than religious retreat. Brothers were very unhappy when they find some refugees not accepting monastic style of life in Taize.
1. Hungry Hungary.
Near to my barrack were living youngster from Hungary and looking throw the window they were calling all the girls walking along the street by stupid text yelling again and again: "I am Hungary"..."I am Hungary"!
Perhaps it was all the English vocabulary he knew. I was tired hearing that so I took cakes from my bag I said to the boy: IF YOU ARE HUNGRY help yourself, PLEASE EAT THAT CAKE. My sad face and play of English words took result and the boy got silent perhaps dying from joy of my understanding of his English.
2. Lithuanian girl in printing house.
Some boys and girls from Lithuania were nicely talking in English and in French, because were living in Taize as voluntary people for long term. Once we were traveling by car to printing house and I interrupted their talking in exotic Lithuanian language. I was very curious these days and even studied a bit not easy at all Baltic group language. They were surprised but also perhaps I made them same occasion to joke from my Lithuanian as I joked from English of Hungarian boy.
Anyway it helped much our relationship in working group. I got another example how big a treasure for small nationality is their own language.
Some centuries ago Poland and Lithuania were one grate and successful country, but collapsed and never restored perhaps because we were ever for them "big brother", disturbing developing own culture. It is what I know from talking to them.
Ecumenism in understanding of Brother Roger is really great call to be also more tolerant not only as believers in Jesus but as one European nation with Roman culture. Paul John Paul II was talking much about such a vision of United in Christ Europe.
3. Philipinian girl in the garden.
I was twice in Taize, both times in working group. First year I was cleaning toilets. Second I was worjing in the garden together with some Philippine girl in same team. It was very hot so we were transporting water to the trees, flowers and vegetables. I was trying to drive small tractor. Mostly with success but once I was near to fall down from the hill. I stopped last moment but I cannot come back. The girl called some of brothers, he was Irish and he was familiar much more than me with farming and machinery. He easily took back machine from dangerous place. I got friend with that brother and even send some letters to him from Russia, he was sending me answers.
We also got good friends with Philippine girl these days but we do not give address each other even never expecting to meet again. For goodbye she said to me: To the next time...in heaven!
4. Slovakian boy in sacristy.
The boss in sacristy was some African Brother, high man talking many languages. His helper was voluntary boy from Slovakia. I saw once in sacristy the Cross ready to by designed same style as in the main altar Franciscan form. I was asking who will make the picture on the cross and African brother told me that actually they have nobody to do it.
I offered my help and I got this job except working in the garden. I was working in the evenings, sometime even in deep night. I was happy doing it because my Franciscan cross got a bit Carpathian style. Slovakian boy was visiting me much time very glad. He new this style, but he was worry that African Boss may not angry something different than original.
He even advised me to by the cross and take to Poland with me. I was not hearing his advice because I was still hoping that small part of my heart may stay here and be useful in prayer. My expectations were wrong. Boss was unhappy and near to cry when he saw what happened with his relic. He explained that he have to look for new designer.
5. British - marxist.
Long evening discussion about communism had only one direction. The young boy, perhaps liberal man was telling that Friedrich Marks was OK. I wa trying my best to explainhim how much dangerous his ideology was with such poisoning elements like atheism and other evils...None argument was usefull talking to him, he only smiled telling again, that Marsk was OK. Finally I loosed control on myself and said to him: "go to hell!, devil is also marksts..." That boy got sad. I used talking to him famous argument "ad personam", means in the single case of that specific person.
In fact these days more and more people loosing memory of the past was talking about soviet times with nostalgy. Even in my native and so wounded by communism Poland.
6. Sick Polish
In Freiburg we met really sick men twice. First sick man "prophet", was German one. He was sitting in the church during Holly Mass for group of students. His way of dressing was funny, he looked like clown. All the time he was behaving strange way. I was praying in German even all the youngsters were polish. Going to Taize I has no time to think about most important things like liturgical books for the travel. It was my first trip in the West, I had no idea how to behave, but I was sure as group going on retreats, we have to pray Mass daily. We made that stop without planning. Local priest in some settlement out of Freiberg was waiting us for night sleep but just before going there I got deep desire to have a Mass in nice church in the center. Students agree me; they also agree to hear the mass in German.
The clown came to me after the Mass and criticized: "You made 6 mistakes in reading German, 6 is the number of devil"! His words were good comment to the story which happened to us with second sick man former polish citizen but German roots man, who was living last years in Freiburg, but perhaps got sick from nostalgia to Poland. When he saw us in the church, he was begging me to take him together. I was really young and spontaneous man, I was trying to understand and help him. I agree he goes with us. It was just one week, I was thinking: after one week being with us and praying perhaps he may get peace.
In fact he did not have any peace. He also disturbed others to stay in peace in Taize. His maniacal behaviour against rules was observed and brothers in Taize decided to help him other way. They give me a driver and I have gone with him to German consulate in Lyon. We came just in the noon and Consul was going somewhere, perhaps to eat lunch. He had no intention to talk with us. We even visit Police asking what to do, to send back the man without money to his native Freiburg but Police also had no idea.
Polish man was very touched given to him attention and proposed he may go back on his own. I don't know was he successful or not, but he never appeared again in Taize camp.
7. Wild girls.
During my second trip to Taize, last summer trip before starting permanent missionary experience in Russia, was full of misunderstandings in the middle of the group. It was again group of polish students from Bialystok, but I got impression many of them has no intention to be on retreats, just to have a good time in foreign country.
People were smoking, non punctual, and none obeying me as responsible of the group. In addition both occasional drivers were looking unbelievers. They were not friendly to me also smoking and talking during my efforts to make prayers during the travel. They never agree to make any additional stop for having a Mass or seeing some interesting place during the trip. They just were transporting us like somebody transports wood or iron. There were difficulties to make stops on WC. Not surprice that all the travel was looking crazy.
Surprisingly on our way back was planned one stop in Paris. Drivers were paid to follow that way. They agree to make half a day stop in the center according plan, but when the group came back to go on camping, the place for sleeping far away out of the city 3 girls were absent. These girls which behaved worse long before. Drivers were no intention to wait more. They also wished to sleep soon. I had nothing to say, we have gone.
In deep night, camping workers wake me up and invite to phone. These poor three girls were calling from Police station, happy hearing my voice, but I was sad. I understood that they got good lesson, I even smiled sarcastic smile. They asked me later if I was happy that they have loosed. I answered: "Yes, I was thinking your behaviour some day may be punished, and I was right!" Police bring them to the place and our trip from Paris to Poland became more disciplined and peaceful.
Yes, Taize is educating to be tolerant, to be disciplined in one big family, to be patient and humble in relationship to others, just like in monastery. To talk about Taize and to be there, of course these are two different things. I was surprised, that having so big number of participants and voluntary man in Taize Poland has the only brother and none new vocations to stay there for ever.
Perhaps we are good as visitors but bad as workers, people following the rules full heart.
Concerning me, yes, time to time I was having temptation to stay there, forever.
Fr. Jaroslaw Wisniewski,
Kharkov-Ukraine, July 2003