On April 8, 2005, time stood still in Rome – for half a day. Almost four million people from all over the world had gathered in the holy city, to bid farewell to Pope John Paul II. Massive crowds were squeezing through the streets, yet not everyone made it to St. Peters Square. There, 300,000 pilgrims and state guests participated in the Exequiel ceremony of the deceased pontiff. The funeral service was celebrated by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

During the whole ceremony, a man who was not a Catholic, but a Protestant clergyman, was present during the entire time. Brother – better known as Frère – Roger Schütz, founder and prior of the Taizé Brotherhood.

He sat in a wheelchair, dressed in white liturgical garments. An assistant on his side was the first to push the wheelchair in front of the altar, as soon as the distribution of the Eucharist commenced. And Frère Roger received the Eucharist straight out of Cardinal Ratzinger’s hands, just like any other Catholic. The whole world sat in front of the television and witnessed, how the presence of Roger Schütz, the saint of hearts, was giving the last escort to the Pope of hearts a very special touch. This one moment – literally “blowing with the wind” – (an unusual sudden storm blasted across St. Peter’s Square that day) showed openly and clearly how much the unity of ecumenism in the 21st century still hangs by a thread. Because right after – the controversy started. It didn’t take long for a reaction and an immediate open discussion. According to the media report, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navaroo-Valls said, that the reception of the Holy Eucharist was not foreseen for the founder of the Taizé Community and was based on “coincidental circumstances”. Brother Roger had been “unintentionally” getting in line, which was formed before Cardinal Ratzinger to receive Communion, and it had been impossible to reject him. “This is a completely extraordinary case that should not be generalized,” Navarro-Vals commented and played the whole thing down, calling it an “inadvertent mistake”.

But it was not the first time, that Schütz, the Protestant, had participated in the celebration of the Eucharist in the Vatican. For more stress: Exactly that had happened years ago. Pope John Paul II let Roger Schütz take part in the Eucharist decades before. Hardly anyone questioned the act then.

Yet the discussion of this topic remains open today. For me as a Catholic, the person behind the communion bench receiving the body of Jesus must have the understanding of the Holy Eucharist, that is what matters and what is most important. More than the big discussion about who may or may not be entitled to receive the Eucharist?

The Protestant and the Catholic – The Bridge to Unity

John Paul II and Roger Schütz – Catholic and Protestant – were real friends who somehow were made for one another. The Pope and the Taizé founder first met in 1962 at the Second Vatican Council. Before the meetings of the Council, they prayed in the Chapel of the Holy Eucharist of St. Peter’s and got to know each other. They got closer. Later it became a lifelong friendship.

Von João Pedro Gonçalves (en:User:Joaop) – http://galerias.escritacomluz.com/joaop/album02/aaa, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link

 

The two joined paths together, yet they also disjoined, depending on the call of their duties and the sense of their tasks. But they never separated from each other, as they never separated from their identical ideas. Just as they could never part with the idea of inspiring the youth of this world for the faith of Christ. One initiated the “World Youth Day” and the other founded the “Council of Youth”. Always with the thought in mind of unifying in the faith in Jesus Christ.

They organized hours of prayer, meditations, meetings, promoted discussions about the future of Christianity and the world, organized global congresses under the title “Pilgrimage of Trust” and stood up for “European Youth Meetings” in the cities of Europe. They were tireless workers in the vineyard of the Lord. Real rocks of Christianity. Both men carried the phenomenon of clergy within themselves. They were a gift to the world, yet they had their insurmountable obstacles that kept them so close, yet so far away. One must show much humility and have a great understanding in order to come to terms with the fact, that two giants of theology and humanism, have been able to move so much, and yet not enough for the unity of Christianity. A project they both worked for incessantly without rest and repose until the end.

Their dream in search of Christian unity did not really take the kind of step forward they would have truly wished. But they have left us with a perspective full of expectations. This gives us hope for the future.

Frère Roger Schütz and Pope John Paul II built a bridge together – into the future. With this, they have started a path to overcome obstacles for Unity. Each one should join this path. People need to come from their way towards the center and meet just in the middle of this bridge. If we really try, we’ll succeed turning the dream of Frère Schütz and Karol Wojtyla into reality, integrating Christian unity into our daily lives, living together in peace – without quarrels or dogma. Such day could be just a moment away.

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