The place was overcrowded and noisy, and the food was unimpressive. Meals and meetings were held outside or in tents, depending on the weather. Visitors slept (and many snored loudly) in tents and overcrowded barracks. One had to stand in long lines (often up to 30 minutes) for everything, especially food. It hardly seemed like a setting for meaningful prayer, but my visit to Taizé turned out to be one of the most spiritually meaningful weeks of my life.
And not just for me. During the hot July week when I visited, Taizé welcomed more than 4,500 pilgrims, mostly young adults, from many denominations and from 60 nations (including a thousand from Eastern Europe). Summer weeks typically see between 2,500 and 6,000 visitors, with a total of 100,000 each year—although Taizé is off the beaten path (in France's Burgundy region, midway between Lyons and Geneva).
What attracts so many to this place? When George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, brought 1,000 youth in 1992, he was struck at how evangelicals, Catholics, and charismatics all felt at home. But the primary reason people flock to Taizé is the prayer and worship. "When you ask at the end of a week what they most appreciated. … seven, eight, nine times out of ten they'll say it's prayer, that they found something there," says Taizé Brother Jean-Marie, a native New Yorker.
Yet it's a unique form of prayer that attracts; Taizé leaders call it "common prayer" and other Christian leaders call it the "the daily office," from the Latin officium meaning "duty" or "responsibility." This type of prayer brings people of all Christian traditions not only to France but also to increasingly popular prayer communities in England and Scotland, communities that structure their life together ...