The Aug. 18 obituary for Brother Roger incorrectly reported which pope invited him to observe the Second Vatican Council. It was Pope John XXIII. (Published 8/19/2005)
Brother Roger, 90, a distinctly undogmatic Protestant monk and theologian who started a commune and won a worldwide following, was fatally stabbed Aug. 16 during evening prayers at his ecumenical Christian community in eastern France.
Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that an "apparently deranged 36-year-old Romanian woman" stabbed him. A public prosecutor told the news agency that the woman hoped "to attract [Brother Roger's] attention but not to kill him." About 2,500 people were at the services, in the French Burgundy village of Taize, when the stabbing occurred.
Brother Roger initially settled in Taize to express solidarity with the French living under Nazi occupation. He helped shepherd Jews into Switzerland, which angered the Gestapo and got him expelled from the country.
He returned after the war to care for refugees, and for years lived in relative obscurity with a handful of French and Swiss brothers who vowed celibacy and poverty.
The white-robed Brother Roger disavowed preachiness in favor of plain language, and he borrowed from eastern religions for his meditative chanting sessions. He insisted that his monks, some of them doctors and farmers, earn a separate living to support the community to avoid the "trouble caused by" seeking donations.
He wrote in formal commune guidelines that a chief goal was to provide a model for Christian unity, to foster "brotherly community, itself set in the body of the Church." He expanded on this theme in several books.
His profile and the commune's grew mightily in the 1960s, after Pope John Paul XXIII invited him to observe the Second Vatican Council. Hordes of young people, mostly Europeans but also Americans, Africans and Asians, began making pilgrimages to Taize, hoping Brother Roger would provide an answer to their frustrations caused by war and politics.
He said his commune, fueled by a social urgency and justice, fulfilled their needs. In the early 1970s, he created youth gatherings that were broadly attended, and he turned his commune into a spiritual Woodstock filled with fellowship and meditative chanting.
Brother Roger encouraged his followers to spend time in ghettos -- in Chicago, New York and Calcutta, among other places -- to help supplement social service programs for the poor and troubled. But he remained suspicious of too much time away from the commune.
"If we would follow our inclinations," he told The Washington Post in 1980, "we would leave Taize and go out and live in the slums. But we stay because in the Western world, there is a very great anxiety among youth that is sometimes more distressing in a sense [than poverty]. It would be like copping out to leave."
There was little evidence that Taize developed into a personality cult, despite some suspicions by the French media. Brother Roger's reputation was largely secure after he won the prestigious Templeton Prize for progress in religion in 1974 and the Unesco Prize for Peace Education in 1988, among other honors.
He received such visitors as Mother Teresa, a fellow Templeton recipient, and befriended religious leaders and politicians. Pope Benedict XVI described the founder as a "beloved brother."
Roger Louis Schutz-Marsauche was born in 1915 in the Swiss Jura Mountains. His father, a Swiss Calvinist pastor, was "a mystic at heart," he once said. He encouraged his son to look beyond strict religious borders and, to impress this, sent him to live with a Catholic family during part of his schooling.
After graduating from the University of Lausanne, where he wrote his thesis on monastic life, Brother Roger grew horrified with the fall of France in 1940.
"The defeat of France awoke powerful sympathy," he once wrote. "If a house could be found there, of the kind we had dreamed of, it would offer a possible way of assisting some of those most discouraged, those deprived of a livelihood: and it could be a place of silence and work."
He rushed across the French border on bike and settled in Taize. When the Gestapo found out about his work hiding Jews, he was forced from the town, but he returned after the war with friends from Geneva.
Over the years, the commune continued to shun materialism. That took many forms, from destroying its archives every year to selling "profit-free snacks" in the coffee shop. Commune members ate stew and self-grown fruits and vegetables.
His audiences were mostly filled with youth who appreciated a message that challenged the world's cares. He once advised his flock to stop using "your time and energy trying to find out who is wrong and who was right."
He was so successful with garnering the young faithful that Pope Paul VI had once asked him, "What is the key to the heart of the young?"
"I told him we don't have a key and we never will," he said.