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Discussing religion, spirituality and values. Amy Umble is the religion reporter for The Free Lance-Star. You can email her at
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Local woman enjoys unexpected faith journey in Rome


It was one of those moments that I did not see coming. I am not a journalist, bilingual or even Catholic. Yet as the sun set on the last Saturday of 2012, I was happy to be on my knees on the cold stone of the piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

I was eagerly waiting, with photojournalists and worshippers from all over the world, for a very special service to begin.

It was a traditional Taizé service, rich with beauty and filled with music and words spoken in so many languages that few, if any, would understand all of it.

As I waited for the service to begin, the crowd behind me grew to include 45,000 young people from all over the world. They were in Rome to participate in a Taizé Community “pilgrimage of trust on earth.”

Taizé is a monastic community, centered in Taizé, France, and ecumenical in nature. It has a particular form of worship service that includes silence, Scripture readings in multiple languages and special chant-like hymns.

The Rome gathering was part of ongoing Taizé-organized “pilgrimages of trust on earth.” Prior to this event, the 2011 New Year’s gathering was held in Berlin, Germany and, among other events, there was a November 2012 gathering in Kigali, Rwanda.

In Rome’s five day event, a key feature was a Saturday evening address by Pope Benedict XVI.

I had discovered Taizé only six months prior on YouTube in the middle of the night. A death in the family had prompted some bouts of insomnia. So, lost between unsuccessful efforts to meditate and biding my time surfing the Web, I found the beautiful music of Taizé services online to be meditative and peaceful.

Now, here I was in Rome, experiencing one of the services alongside young people of various denominations (including Catholic, Orthodox and various Protestant traditions) who had been welcomed into the homes of host families in Rome. Other participants, we were told, were sleeping on the floors of area meeting places.

This event followed the format of other pilgrimages led by Taizé: a morning program in local churches; moments of prayer and sharing and the discovery of “signs of hope” in local neighborhoods; communal lunches; and afternoon workshops on spiritual, artistic and social justice topics.

Evening prayer was held in the basilicas and large city-center churches and then participants returned to host family homes.

In an opening service at St. John’s Cathedral, Brother Alois, head of Taizé, said: “We hope that this meeting in Rome will be a beautiful experience of communion, that young people may discover the Church as a place of friendship, where we meet together beyond all borders.”

In a 2012 letter sent to us before the gathering, the leader, Brother Alois, emphasized the importance of unity and set the agenda for the pilgrimage:

“Can we, without imposing anything, journey alongside those who do not share our faith but are searching for the truth with all their heart?”

The Taizé Community has always had a strong devotion to peace, social justice and Christian unity. It was founded in 1940 by Brother Roger Schutz, who was a Protestant.

In addition to the pilgrimages hosted in other cities, over 100,000 young people from around the world make pilgrimages to the Taizé Community in France each year.

You can imagine my delight to discover that a family trip to Rome coincided with this important event in Rome.

Since I knew I’d want to write about the pilgrimage, I visited the Taizé press room upon arrival. Either because I was one of the few, if any, U.S. reporters at the event or because I had a modest Nikon camera around my neck, I had a press badge and some photography instructions before I could say “I’m not exactly a photojournalist.”

So there I was on that Saturday, privileged to have a front row view—despite being on my knees after an Italian photographer barked something in Italian that sounded so much like “get out of my seat,” I happily slid to the cold stone ground to make room.


After everyone arrived, Brother Alois greeted Pope Benedict: “What unites us is stronger than what divides us: one baptism and the same Word of God unite us. We have come here this evening to celebrate this unity around you, a unity which is real even if it is not yet fully realized.”

The Pope then welcomed and addressed the crowd in five different languages as he delivered his sermon. He praised Brother Roger, founder of Taizé.

“We should listen in our hearts to his spiritually lived ecumenism, and let ourselves be guided by his witness towards an ecumenism which is truly interiorized and spiritualized,” the Pope said. “Following his example, may all of you be bearers of this message of unity. I assure you of the irrevocable commitment of the Catholic Church to continue seeking the paths of reconciliation leading to the visible unity of Christians.”

When we turned around to go, a most amazing sight was behind us. We were under a full moon, which had risen during the service. And the whole piazza was lit by 45,000 handheld candles that glowed in multiple colors.

It was a gorgeous scene.

“That was perfect!” I said as the pope’s car receded into the crowd.


Our world is changing. It is smaller in many ways, and it is our young people who know this fact best. Still, we know the need for unity and peace remain the same. Nothing speaks this as clearly as the ancient streets of Rome.

As this pilgrimage emphasized, perhaps it is up to us, worldwide, to bring in new ways for young people to find unity and peace, even as they move our longstanding traditions forward.

Dr. Delise B. Dickard is the founder and clinical director of Riverside Counseling in Stafford County. She writes the monthly “Mindset” column for The Free Lance–Star’s Healthy Living section.