CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 20 October 2018

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Rediscovering a journey of faith on the ‘hill’ of Taizé

A village located on a hill, which lies in the middle of a mountainous landscape invites young people from all around the world to discover and to rediscover their journey of faith. When someone asks me, what is Taizé? There isn’t a concrete answer. Taizé is not just a place, but a personal journey. 
 
For two-and-a-half months, I had the opportunity to reflect through prayer, songs and sharings. 
 
The Taizé Community is an ecumenical Christian monastery of more than 100 brothers from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. All year around, they welcome over 100,000 young people to stay, on average, a week, to join prayers and practical work. 
 
My first visit to Taizé was in August 2015, during the special week that celebrated Brother Roger’s 100th anniversary. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree this year, I decided to take two-and-a-half months off from the hustling and bustling city and to pay another visit to Taizé, this time as a volunteer. 
 
I stayed with N’Toumi, a community of female volunteers of 40 to 50 girls. At the beginning, girls usually came from Europe, but entering into the summer our community became more international. Girls came from countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Through sharing meals, painting at the creative corner, weekly sharings and game nights, we exchanged cultural backgrounds and shared personal struggles with one another. For some, it was more difficult than others to adapt, but they were all available to help if it was needed. 
 
Living in community showed me casual ways of negotiating and reminded me of the importance of respect. With so many girls living together issues do occasionally arise. Privacy gets invaded, living environments become difficult, but the three daily prayers was able to afford me the privacy and space that was lacking, and gave me time to reflect and understand. They helped me build a higher level of tolerance of the matters and I learned that honesty and respect can truly construct stronger bonds. 
 
What’s a day in Taizé like? In between the three daily prayers, visitors and volunteers are given jobs for the week. With the guidance of the brothers, they are assigned different tasks. Some were more exciting than others. Sometimes it would be food distribution, washing up the mass of dishes after meals, sterilising common restrooms, tent maintenance or cooking. Communal work encourages youngsters to contribute to the community and to share their faith and culture along the way.
 
As a volunteer, I was given new jobs every week and each always showed me something new. I cleaned the common restrooms, animated programmes for adults, teens and children, worked in the church and coordinated the welcoming for new visitors every Sunday. 
 
The simplest way to enjoy difficult and exhausting jobs is to put on a smile, encourage teammates and complete the task as a team. Strangers come together and at the end of the week, friendships develop, making it difficult to leave, but Taizé always reminds us that we will always meet again, regardless of where we are from. 
 
Throughout the year, Taizé also travels across continents, connecting with the local people. This brings along the regular visitors with them as well.  
 
Being in Taizé brought me closer to my parents. We’ve have been living apart for a couple of years, they live in Toronto and I’m in Hong Kong. During my stay over the past few months, we exchanged letters. The letters were filled with honesty and depth through the dynamics of giving and receiving. I was able to share bible reflections and my silent journey with them, inspiring them to reflect alongside with me as a family. Since I’ve been back, my parents have continued to write me a letter per week. 
 
Brother Roger mentioned, “the lips are closed, but the heart is opened.” Prayers felt directionless, but at the same time they were my favourite time of day. Each volunteer was assigned to a contact person, a brother for boys and a sister for girls. My contact sister showed me the importance of simply being present, being open to what God has in mind for me. 
 
The passivity of praying became a dialogue with God. Every prayer, I sat in the Church of Reconciliation with my legs crossed, in front of the colourful altar and opened my heart. I heard the responses coming from my friends and people I met. It showed me that God was there all along, I just didn’t realise it and it brought me even closer to my faith.
At “the hill,” you get a chance to encounter people who share the same faith, but they have a personal story behind it. Each individual has a different relationship with God, some weaker and some stronger. 
 
During my two and a half months there, I met many people, but there were a few who showed me the works of God through their actions. Sometimes work could be difficult because certain people don’t cooperate well, but in its miraculous ways, at the end of the week, it’s all smiles and thankfulness. Volunteers took on more responsible roles and the team that I was managing would always finish the week off with hugs and thank yous.  
 
An elderly French lady from the adults programme has been coming to Taizé for decades, since around the 1980s. While she was here for the week, she saw me every day and shared a life story. 
 
She is passionate about the genealogy of her family. Her roots kept deepening her interest in finding out where she comes from. She also shared how Taizé used to be. She was a storyteller. 
 
That Sunday, after the Mass, I saw her and she told me “Ashley, I would like to share a secret with you, I have brain cancer and I don’t know if I will have the chance to return to Taizé. The doctor said I only have a few months left, but I’m scared that I wouldn’t make it back next time. Please pray for me,” and I started to tear up. “I didn’t mean to make you sad, but sometimes it’s nice to share the burden with someone who cares and to pray together.” 
 
I received a deeper understanding of myself and built upon my relationship with God. These two-and-a-half months gave me lifelong friendships, trust in myself and a strong motivation to bring Taizé with me wherever I go. 
 
As a young Catholic in Hong Kong, I hope to bring the dynamic silence and interactive prayers to young people around the city in hopes of giving them the chance to discover and rediscover themselves with God, as well. 
 
 
• Ashley Ho