Br. Luc Bourgoin, from the Taizé Community in France, has been working in Cape Town for the past 18 months to prepare a Pilgrimage of Trust, which took place from 25-29 September. He describes how Taizé has had ties with South Africa since the 1970s, and how this pilgrimage brought together young people from all over the world to celebrate their cultural diversity and unite in prayer around their common faith. He also highlights the need for silence and prayer in a world filled with anger and violence.
Young adults came from Klerksdorp, Polokwane, Swaziland, Mauritius and beyond to participate in the Taizé Community’s Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth – Cape Town, 25-29 September. They were delighted at the atmosphere of common prayer and sharing, where nearly 2,000 gathered from 17 African countries, 14 European countries, the USA and the islands of Madagascar and Mauritius.
The gathering, “Let Us Not Forget Hospitality”, held at St. Joseph Marist College, Rondebosch, was the culmination of 18 months of visits by brothers of the Ecumenical Community of Taizé, France to local Cape Town communities of Anglicans, Catholics, Lutheran, Methodist and other denominations to encourage youth participation in the Cape Town meeting.
Taizé has a long history in South Africa
This was not the first visit by the Taizé brothers to the Cape. In 1978, during the repressive period of apartheid laws, Brother Roger – founder of the community of Taizé – visited Crossroads to show solidarity with the victims suffering from South Africa’s oppressive policies. He asked a woman if he could make the sign of the Cross in her hand and encouraged each one to express, in this silent gesture, their sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
Br. Roger returned to South Africa in 1995 to celebrate with the youth South Africa’s peaceful transition to a non-racial, non-sexist democratic dispensation. This time the meeting was held at the Standard Bank Arena in Johannesburg at the invitation of church leaders from mainstream and local churches.
As he welcomed all to this 2019 Cape Town Pilgrimage of Trust, Br. Alois, who succeeded Roger as the community’s prior in 2005, urged all the participants: “Let us allow the Word of Christ to resonate on our hearts: Blessed are the peacemakers!”
On Friday, 27 September, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of Cape Town came to give the participants his blessing. In the 1970s the Archbishop arranged, with the help of Taizé, to bring 144 young people to the Taizé community. Taking his inspiration from the Book of Revelation, the Archbishop brought together “members of every tribe, tongue and people and nation” within South Africa to show the unity of God’s children, despite government’s policy of separate development.
The pilgrims finally arrived
After flights and long bus journeys, weary travellers arrived at the meeting venue from all parts of southern Africa, Europe and even the USA. They came to the “Tent Chapel” for the meeting and found themselves in a place of calmness, prayer and song with the brothers of Taizé.
Pilgrims from Botswana were happily surprised at “the freedom of the young people to express themselves”. A teacher from Mpumalanga said, “It is so nice! There are so many people in one place. It’s amazing.” A young priest said, “Even though we are from different backgrounds, we’re able to share. We can approach anyone without fear.”
The generous hospitality of local parishes
Local parishes and families offered accommodation to the young people. Participants expressed their gratitude for the welcome and thoughtfulness of their hosts. Thabiso from Soweto was very touched at the graciousness of his hosts, an elderly couple who welcomed them. The wife was blind, he said, “And she trusted us to come into her house without seeing us.” One young girl from Kenya said, “The host family really gave of themselves.”
A pilgrim from Mauritius
Ludovic, a pilgrim who arrived from Mauritius, quickly saw some similarities between life in South Africa and Mauritius. They are both like a paradise with their lovely beaches. There are different cultures living together. In Mauritius the majority of the people are Hindus, Christians, Muslim, Ba’hai and Jewish. He was especially touched by the Word of God as it affirms Christianity. Ludovic has “been organising events in the Diocese and, though the group has been small, they are progressing,” he said.
What was really wonderful for Ludovic? “I’ll always remember the smile of (Rev) Wilma, still smiling and giving a warm welcome, even at midnight!”
The programme for the days included breakfast at the host family and a meeting for an 8:00 morning prayer held in the parish church. This was followed by visits and meetings with “people of hope” locally. Afterwards, small groups continued with the question, “How can I help others to grow in confidence?… in trusting others?… in trusting God?”
Around 11:00 the pilgrims departed from the host churches to St. Joseph’s where they could pick up their meals and practise songs for the common prayer at 13:00. During the afternoons there were workshops exploring different themes looking at deepening prayer life, how African cultures can deepen the Christian experience, marriage, and how to introduce Christian values into the worlds of business and politics.
Br. Luc reflects on the role of silence and prayer
The experience of silence for young people, to enter into the silence and to accept not being in control of anything, is deeply connected with the mystery of the Resurrection. We need to treasure it – to make it beautiful, but not to go alone – because there may be deep fears. However, if we are together and accompany each other, we can make it beautiful with a loving atmosphere. Once the heart has tasted freedom it will never go back to slavery.
Then they will find the patience and the motivation to build up relationships based on peace, which accommodate the “other” even if they do not know the experiences of the other. They will become one and realise that they contribute to the community and to society… that is also beautiful. No head of state or non-governmental organisation can do this.
Our youth are confronted with violence on a daily basis. There is a lot of frustration, pain and brokenness; the violence is everywhere, but the answers must come from within. So that is what we see happening in the lives of the young people. We see they deserve to have the experience of silence.
The young people deserve the gift of silence. It is not complicated or expensive. We don’t need to force that silence or guidance. In front of God we can only bend and call for assistance.
All chaplains should be able to open spaces for peaceful worship and for adoration so that people can be renewed. It is not expensive to listen and to receive the Word of God and to share how they connect that message with their life. You don’t need big speakers. With simple tools you can equip people with strength coming from the Word of God.