How do you begin writing about an experience when the absolute best part of it was in fact 8 minutes of silence?
Imagine this: St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Italy. Bright night sky, it was full moon and you can see hundreds of stars. All around you there are at least 50,000 people, the larger majority being under 35. And everyone was silent: praying and/or meditating on scripture. It was one of those moments where you can feel the presence of God even if you never really understood what it means to feel the presence of God.
I was there because I decided, following last year’s regret, to take part in the Taizé European Meeting. This is a program organized by the Taizé community at the end of every year. The European Meeting is intended for young people (between the age of 16 and 35) and the program includes common prayer three times a day (Taizé style), walks through the city, workshops and small group discussions as well as communal lunch, which is a really interesting thing when you consider that there are at least 40,000 people to be fed!
Okay, so I told you my absolute highlight and my second best highlight (yes, squeezing around 40,000 people to get lunch!), now here are a few more highlights:
1. The Indonesian Meeting
You would think that it being the Taizé European Meeting, I would be surrounded by Europeans. Not true. By some strange (I shall say divine) coincidence, I spent most of my time walking around Rome with not one, not two but rather FOUR other Indonesians! On the evening of “country meetings” we managed to huddle up a group of about 10. Yep. Proud.
2. The Seven (or so) Basilicas
People who were at previous European Meetings said that this meeting in Rome was different. One of the difference was that instead of praying in a big exposition hall with minimalistic orange decoration, we went to different basilicas for our common prayers, all of them massive and highly decorative. I personally do not understand what they were complaining about. These were house of prayers that at some point in history became more of a tourist attraction which were returned to their original purpose as volunteers held up signs with the word “SILENCE” and people sat down on the floor to sing, listen to the gospel, and pray. It was wonderful.
3. The Messages
At each different prayer times, a message/meditation was delivered either by Brother Alöis (leader of the Taizé community), the Pope, the Cardinal of Rome, or one of the Taizé brothers. Each of them was a reflection of the bible reading, faith, and the pilgrimage. They were (and still are) all extremely inspiring. You can read some of them on the Taizé website.
4. The Sorghum Seeds
A month before the European Meeting, a similar meeting was held in Rwanda. Young people from the different African countries came together in a pilgrimage of reconciliation and peace. They gave the Taizé brothers some seeds to symbolize hope, to be planted in Europe (and beyond). During the European meeting, representatives from different countries (including the Pope as representative of Vatican City) were given these seeds, to carry on the hope, to plant the hope, to let the hope grow.
5. The Ecumenical Reality
While it is somewhat easy to mistake this pilgrimage to be a Roman Catholic gathering, the truth is that as anything Taizé, it was an ecumenical gathering; there were Roman Catholics, Protestants of all sorts of traditions, as well as Orthodox, and even some who weren’t sure about “this whole religion issue”. And yet there we were, together in a place of importance for the Christian faith, worshiping and praying. It was almost like the ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement was finally fulfilled. Or maybe it was a wake-up call, because maybe for us young people it really did not matter what “tradition” you adhere to or what theological reasoning classifies you into a certain group of believers. Maybe the only thing that matters is trust, in God and in each other.