I would go to the ends of the earth, I would go right round the world, to tell and tell again of my trust in the new generation, my confidence in youth.
And it is for us, the older generation, to listen, never to condemn. Listen and again listen, to grasp what is finest in the creative intuition that dwells within the young today.
They will trace our paths, they will overcome barriers, they will open breaches, to carry the whole people of God along with them. Above all, they will know how to get beyond the demarcation lines that separate believers from one another or that separate believer from non-believer.
For me, right from my own youth, I have had the conviction that being a man, having a heart filled with humanity, means never condemning but above all understanding everything of other people.
The young can be judged by certain older people in a way that brooks no appeal, and there are young people whose attitude to the older generation is one of rejection. This generation gap is quite contrary to the sense of the universal. Both risk losing much by it: the young, because they are depriving themselves of human and spiritual experience, the old, because they are relegating themselves to a situation where they passively await their own death. And yet life is a gift of God, for the old as for the young.
When we listen to the young, with the left ear and with the right, which means, when we take them such as they are, we discover an immense diversity of aspirations, a vast plurality.
This is what I have been discovering over the last four years, through the preparation for the Worldwide Council of Youth which will open soon on the different continents. As I think of the Council of Youth, I cannot bring myself to worry, even when people put their finger on the great difficulties and the tensions that we must face. I have such confidence in the intuitions of the young from so many countries, who are gathering at Taizé, who come, who go off again, who search, who pray.
Struggle and Contemplation
Recapitulating their aspirations, there are two intuitions that emerge: struggle and contemplation.
Struggle, which struggle do we mean? A struggle for the liberation of all men, to give a voice to the man who has no voice, to promote a society without classes, a lifelong commitment alongside the man who is victim of man. Many young people have understood that communion with the misery of the world is also participation in the world’s struggle against misery. And the thick of this struggle, in the rich countries as in the poor, the believer’s place is not in the rearguard. They are called to expose themselves in order to take risks.
Yet the struggle for and with man finds its source in yet another struggle, a struggle inscribed at the very heart of our being, there where no man resembles any other. There we touch the very doors of contemplation.
Contemplation is nothing other than one’s whole person being seized by the reality of the love of God. When we understand a truth of the natural order with our minds, we can be seized by it, but only partially. On the contrary in contemplation, it is in the depths of our being that we are seized by the unique reality, the reality of the love of God, which fills even the emptiness which each man knows deep within himself.
Here, it is love that is the touchstone. Discovering a face to face meeting with God . . . contemplating him too in the face of man . . . and giving back a human face to the man who is disfigured. All this is one and the same struggle — that of love. To the point that nothing is grave except the loss of love.
In many of the young, the marked sense of being part of a worldwide human community allows us to discern a fairly new consciousness of the universal. For Christians, this openness to the universal supposes a definite communion among themselves, whereas they have been so divided through the centuries. First of all finding unity in one’s own person, being reconciled in oneself, so as to be led toward reconciliation with others. Not so as to be more powerful, in a crusading spirit, but to be men of reconciliation and to offer a place of communion to all men. For Christians, this place of communion is the body of Christ, the place that is called the Church. A great number of young people reject the Church, unless it becomes a place of communion where even the unbeliever can feel himself at ease, yet without his being asked to adhere to it; unless too it becomes a place of communion without means of power, free from links with powers that be and compromise with financial power. Through history, Christians have retreated so far from the community of goods that was a fact in the life of the early Church. Poverty of means helps us to be men of communion, it will always be linked to the creation of a universal communion.
Communion of Love
To support a communion of love among all men, I myself have great hope in all that comes to us from the Southern hemisphere. And this hope finds itself confirmed through so many young people from the southern continents that I meet constantly and with whom we are searching.
This hope even marked my childhood. My parents foresaw a decline in faith within Europe. As a child, I heard my father and mother express their firm confidence that a renewal of faith would come to us through African Christians. In essence, they said: It is the African Christians who will bring the Gospel in its first freshness to people in the Northern hemisphere. They even arranged for their nine children (myself, the youngest) to hear a personal word from an elderly African, a man of God, who was travelling in Europe.
This meeting with the African marked my life and continues to quicken me from within. It has been a deter-mining factor in the high expectation I have had ever since towards the men of the southern continents, South American, African, Asian.
Now let me say something about the Templeton Prize. I did not expect to receive it. When I heard about it, I thought of Mother Teresa who received it last year, and of my own brothers of Taizé who are working with Mother Teresa this year, among the dying in Calcutta.
Then I said to myself: ‘You have always refused honours and distinctions. Receive the Templeton Prize with simplicity of heart, uniquely as a confirmation of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian believers, addressed to the believer that you, day after day, are seeking to be.ʼ
As for the sum of money which goes with the Prize, I do not accept it for the Taizé community. We have always refused gifts. We have always lived entirely from our work, without any capital in reserve. Again, I cannot accept it for the reception of the tens of thousands of young people who come to Taizé, even although at this moment the reception fund is empty.
Money to whom?
Over the past weeks, I have been able to ask large numbers of young people staying with us on the hill, as to whom the money from the Templeton Prize should be given. It will be given to poor young people, especially in the Southern hemisphere who, committed in the ways of struggle and contemplation are seeking to meet one another and to be tireless seekers of communion. A first sum of money will be left here in the British Isles, for young people working among immigrants from Africa and Asia, especially Pakistanis, and also for young people struggling for reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
To conclude, let me express to you my hope in what lies before us: a springtime is at hand, soon it will warm us with the ardour of its fire. One of the stakes is our communion, between youth and older people.
Certain evenings I happen to be out walking alone, under a sky heavy with stars. Thousands of young people are staying on the hill. I can hear them in the distance and I say for myself; the multitude of intuitions of these young people glimmer like streaks of fire in my night. For the present, there is nothing that can be readily perceived, and yet my night is festival, it is ablaze, it is filled with unfathomable hope. And I repeat to myself: nothing is grave except the loss of love.