The Chaplain’s Office annually leads spiritual trips for students over spring break. This year’s group will travel on a pilgrimage to Taizé Community in Burgundy, France, where students will have the opportunity to explore more deeply their own spirituality, however they may define this concept. Rob Spach, college chaplain, Karen Soos, associate chaplain and campus Catholic minister, and Greg McIntyre, associate rector at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and campus Episcopalian advisor, will lead students to the monastery.
In addition to the spiritual journey that students will experience, the trip is also an international experience. Elizabeth Welliver ’16 went on the trip to Taizé two years ago and found a place where she was forced to meditate and sit with a lot of her anxieties about life. “It was actually a difficult week for me,” she said. “I didn’t have access to internet, I couldn’t look things up, I couldn’t worry. I couldn’t run away from my anxiety. So I found myself sitting with it a lot. I was looking for peace in that.”
In this time of reflection, Welliver made several meaningful international relationships and is even still in contact with girls from Germany and Portugal that she met during her visit. She recommends this trip “to adventurers, anyone who’s willing to step out of their typical social sphere, comfort zone to be immersed in a new linguistic environment.”
Like Welliver, Monica Prudencio ’17 believes that students do not have to be from a certain religious background to attend the trip. “You just need to be open to spirituality because even if you don’t have one, that’s fine, but the reason you’re going is that you want to explore it and figure out ‘why do I not believe anything?’ or ‘is there something more that I am missing?’” However, it is important to remember that the brothers are Christian, therefore the fundamental values of the monastery are Christian morals, but all are welcome.
On this pilgrimage, students will join the brothers in a prayer service three times a day that often consists two-thirds of singing. Two lines of scripture are repeated over and over, creating a meditative state. For some it helps them focus on the message. “People will sing what they won’t say,” Soos said. “It’s almost a way of planting seeds in people through song.” For others, like Welliver, hearing the music performed live is a highlight of the trip. “I looked forward to hearing the music the most. I have been singing Taizé songs for about three years but I never heard it live and it’s very different live. So harmonizing with people was really neat.”
Taizé Community is an ecumenical monastery, where Catholic and Presbyterian brothers live together. It was founded on the central idea of reconciliation, and it was never meant to become a major pilgrimage site. The monastery was started in 1940 by a man named Roger Schutz, who was raised in a very religious, Protestant home. When he was in college, he and several of his friends were highly interested in the idea of monasticism. However, monasticism is not a practice of Protestantism. Despite this setback, the friends began to live in an apartment and tried to recreate a Christian monastery where they would pray together and live in harmony. Once Schutz graduated college, he moved to a small village in West France, bought a farmhouse, and began to pray multiple times a day and practice the idea of reconciliation. Schutz was joined by several other Protestant monks, and they began to take in Jewish families during World War II. Following the war, they took in German POWs, offering them hospitality and a chance for reconciliation.
In the mid-1960s, the monastery had several Catholic and Protestant monks, which is revolutionary in its own right because it is believed to be the only monastery in the world with a mixture of the two sects of religion. They began to notice that several hundreds of young people were coming to join them for prayer. Most of these young “seekers” were not of any faith, but rather they were coming to Taizé to find a sense of spirituality, whatever that means for the individual.
Today, the brothers have kept a similar atmosphere of its origins with simplicity and openness to people at all stages of their faith. As Soos described the Bible study, “the brother leading the Bible study, started the first day and said, “We are going to present you with a story, and talk about that story, and we think it’s a story you can learn something from, we think it’s a great story. So we are going to share that story; we hope that you listen and think about it. But if at the end of the week, you still don’t believe that story, that’s fine.” The brothers have no intention of converting or inflicting their own version of God.
The Chaplain’s Office alternates this trip to Taizé with one to Nicaragua every other year. Unfortunately, the applications for the trip this spring are closed—another trip to Taizé will take place in the spring of 2018.