This is by way of closing remarks, with no small amount of melancholy, as we leave this lovely sanctuary of song and prayer and feasting and quiet, and head into a very different environment ... the environment of Taizé.
In one of our conversations with fellow retreatants over the past few days, some of which were extensive and filled with heartfelt passion, one of the guests offered this demographic: less than fifty percent of France is now Catholic, and of them, about five percent actually practice their faith.
I transcribe this conversation not to provide discouragement, but to actually comment on some of what Tamié does in the midst of this landscape.
Tamié is one of those places that, in some ways, could be both the envy and the headache of a religious community. Envy, in that they are along major crossroads of recreation: hiking, bicycling, skiing, all are literally on their front porch. Over the weekend of our visit, hundreds of tourists, families, kids, and outdoorsmen milled around the place. And envy this, too: their gift shop was humming all afternoon on Sunday.
But with that hum comes the headache: trying to keep some semblance of being removed from the world, with that throng of humanity gathered outside your door (and hauling their cameras into church).
So today, Père Ginépro brought Michele and me down the lane to a lovely, three-story facility, a bit removed from the cloister, but not too far. "Voilà!" he exclaimed proudly, then switching to English, "this is for our young people."
I was astounded. Here was a Trappist monastery, a cloistered community – with what amounted to a youth hostel in their backyard!
But as the abbot showed us around, to an ample kitchen and gathering spaces and dormers filed with bunkbeds, I also saw the prophetic wisdom of this facility: every day, the kids that were on weeklong retreat made their way up to the monastery church, either for Mass, or for Vespers, or midday prayer. They were in the aura of an incredible, ancient, vital, resounding faith tradition. They were being chaperoned by families (who had their own spaces in the facility) – families that had their own kids mixed in with the teenagers. It was engaging, healthy, and hope-filled.
Sure, you could occasionally hear their antics up at the monastery. But the joy in their hearts, watching them create meaningful relationships as the week progressed, balanced out the small bits of chaos they occasionally left in their wake.
This evening, I happened to be among them as they were heading up to the Abbey Church for Vespers. They were moving as a pack of joy, the way teenagers have done forever:
We leave here having seen and heard wonders of the faith in France. They are small, but significant, and they have the ability to change the world, no less so than a band of a dozen men two thousand years ago.
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