Police say Romanian woman, 36, stabbed him at prayer service
Paris — Church leaders and politicians joined an outpouring of sorrow Wednesday over the slaying of Brother Roger, the renowned founder of a French ecumenical community who died after a woman stabbed him during evening prayers.
The frail 90-year-old monk died of his wounds shortly after the attack Tuesday night at the headquarters of the community in Taize in the south Burgundy region. His assailant was a 36-year-old Romanian who had tried to join the community this month, authorities said Wednesday.
“He was a man of peace,” French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said. “He had managed to establish a spiritual dialogue between the (Roman) Catholic Church and other churches. We won’t forget his message.”
The news reached Pope Benedict XVI on the eve of his departure for World Youth Day ceremonies in Cologne, Germany. Expressing sorrow, the pope said that a day earlier he had received a “very moving and very friendly letter” from Roger saying that while his health would not permit him to attend, “with all his heart he would be with the pope and all others who were in Cologne.”
Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams declared: “Brother Roger was one of the best-loved Christian leaders of our time.”
Brother Roger, whose surname was Schutz, became an icon of reconciliation in the lives of individuals and among churches.
When he founded the Taize ecumenical community in 1940, he was 25 and the world was in the throes of war. He and his brothers committed their lives to practicing celibacy, sharing their worldly goods and taking spiritual walks, emphasizing simplicity.
The community grew to international prominence for its work of reconciliation, particularly in reaching out to youths and young adults. The late Pope John Paul II, who himself placed great importance on working with other churches and faiths, visited the Taize community in October 1986.
Roger “was hugely important in the Protestant-Catholic church (reconciliation) in Europe after the Second World War,” said the Rev. Wilma Jakobsen of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. “I think we have no idea just how far his influence extended.”
Tuesday night, before the slaying, about 2,500 people were in the Taize church for evening prayers accompanied by a choir of monks. Alain Duphil, a worshiper from southern France, said he saw a woman rise and walk toward Roger.
“Many people thought she was a mother going to be next to her child, because there were many children around Brother Roger,” Duphil told Le Parisien newspaper. “The woman went behind Brother Roger, and some people thought she was strangling him. Someone screamed. A monk and some young guy grabbed her.”
Police identified the suspect only by her first name, Luminita. She told interrogators that she had not intended to kill the cleric, but only get his attention, according to Jean-Louis Coste, a prosecutor.
She had purchased the knife used in the assault Monday, Coste told a news conference. “She seems deranged, but she can express herself and is coherent,” Coste said.
Roger suffered stab wounds in the neck and died shortly afterward as emergency personnel tried to revive him.
After the start of World War II, the small village of Taize was close to the demarcation line that divided the portions of France controlled by German forces and by the French Vichy government. It was, the community said, strategically located for welcoming refugees, including Jews hiding from the Nazis.
Warned that German forces were aware of their activities, Roger and his sister, Genevieve, left in autumn 1942 but returned in 1944. In the interval, a few other religious brothers had joined the order in Taize. Today, more than 100 brothers — Catholics and Protestants — from more than 25 nations are members of the community.