Thousands Attend Funeral of Taizé Ecumenical Leader

About 10,000 people attended the funeral of Brother Roger Schutz on Tuesday – one week after the 90-year-old ecumenical leader was stabbed to death by a Romanian woman while celebrating mass.

Schutz, who served as the leader of the Taizé ecumenical community, was killed last Tuesday evening by 36-year-old Luminita Solcan as he led prayers in front of 2,500 people in the Taizé church. Solcan's doctor in Romania said she suffered from schizophrenic problems and was off prescribed medication at the time of the attack.

"Merciful God, we ask you to forgive Luminita Solcan who, in an act of illness, took the life of our Brother Roger," said Brother Alois Leser, the German-born Catholic who will serve as Schutz’s designated successor.

"Father, forgive her, for she knew not what she did," Leser added.

According to Agence-France Presse, the Reconciliation church in the town of Taizé was filled to capacity while thousands more had to follow the proceedings on a giant video screen set up outside.

Among those who had come to pay respects were German President Horst Koehler, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, senior clergy from France, Bolivia, Hungary, India, Poland and the United States, and representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Canterbury Diocese of the Church of England, community spokesman Brother Emile told AFP.

The death of the Swiss-born Protestant theologian last week shocked the community and elicited messages of grief from around the world.

"This is an indescribable shock,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams. “Brother Roger was one of the best loved Christian leaders of our time, and hundreds of thousands will be feeling his loss very personally, and remembering him in prayer and gratitude.”

Although Schutz started the Taizé movement in 1940 to provide a refuge for those fleeing the turmoil of World War II, Taizé later developed into an international pilgrimage site for prayer and reflection whose goal was to reconcile Christian denominations.

Each year, the small Taize community welcomes tens of thousands of young people for spiritual reflection and prayer. Last December, more than 40,000 young adults gathered in Lisbon, Portugal, for the 27th European Taize meeting.

Following Schutz's death last week, ecumenical leaders such as World Council of Churches acting general secretary Genevieve Jacques expressed their condolences, praising Schutz for his "unceasing search for authentic ecumenical dialogue" that reached across "institutional barriers."