A selfie of a group of young people in Taize
Category: Student Experience

Title: In Taizé, France, These Hoya-Pilgrims Found a New Inner Peace and Faith Life

Lukas Pitman (SFS’27) walks out of the church in the heart of the French countryside. It’s a cool night in March during Pitman’s spring break. He’d just spent the past hour in song and prayer with a group of Christian monks and pilgrims from all over the world. 

Not ready to call it a night, he walks to a Catholic chapel down the road to pray more, admiring the ornate stained glass icons that adorn the small sacred space. It’s around midnight when he starts to head back to his dormitory, the brilliant stars illuminating the fields surrounding the village. In the distance, he can hear the sheep bleating in the midnight silence.

That night, he was filled with a sense of peace he’d never had in his life before. It’s a peace he’ll carry with him for a long time.

Over spring break, Georgetown’s Campus Ministry brought five students to Taizé, France. The small township is home to the Taize Community, an ecumenical Christian order of monks, or brothers, who come from all corners of the world. 

A group of young people in front of Healy Hall on a cloudy day
Lukas Pitman, second from the right, and Camille Deschapelles, third from the left, with other pilgrims from Georgetown before leaving for Taizé.

Established in 1940 in occupied France during World War II, the community has become known for its short, repetitive and contemplative hymns and centers on the themes of peace, reconciliation and young people.

“As a campus minister, it’s exciting to accompany students on prayer-focused experiences that are a healthy departure from their life at Georgetown,” said Owen Ruggiero, assistant director of music and liturgy in Campus Ministry who accompanied the students to Taizé. “My hope for our Taizé pilgrims is that they will take what they experienced on the hilltop of Taizé — a routine of prayer, discussions of peace and reconciliation, encounters with fellow pilgrims from around the globe — and apply it to their life, work and spirituality on the Hilltop of Georgetown.” 

A group of pilgrims on benches talking with a brother at Taize in a yellow room.
Pilgrims from Georgetown and around the world meet with Brother Matthew, one of the monastic brothers and the prior at Taizé.

When Pitman first heard of the pilgrimage during Sunday night Mass in Dahlgren Chapel, he was intrigued. He knew Taizé prayer happened every Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Georgetown’s Ecumenical Chapel but had never tried it. 

But the next time Pitman passed by the chapel just minutes before the week’s Taizé prayer service, he took a leap of faith and entered.

“It was honestly just kind of a hunch … I am not the greatest singer in the world to be honest. But I was sitting in there, and it’s full of such a sense of inner peace that you can’t really get anywhere else,” he said.

After leaving the prayer session, Pitman made his decision. If this is what 30 minutes of Taizé prayer was like, he was definitely going on the pilgrimage.

For Camille Deschapelles (C’26), a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, prayer and singing have always gone hand-in-hand. She frequently visits the John Main Center for Meditation and Interreligious Dialogue to meditate and pray. A musician, she also sings every Sunday during the 8 p.m. Mass in Dahlgren Chapel as part of the Contemporary Choir.

When she got the opportunity to embark on the pilgrimage to Taizé through a fellowship sponsored by the Trust for the Meditation Process, she knew this was the next phase of her faith journey.

“It seemed like the universe, God was pointing to me [and saying,] ‘Yes, this is the next step for you.’”

A Monastic Rhythm of Life

Every day at Taizé follows a familiar rhythm.

Wake up at 7 a.m. Morning prayer. A simple breakfast with community members followed by Bible study groups. Midday prayer, then lunch. In the afternoon, chores and tasks to do around the grounds. Free time to explore and rest. Community dinner. And, finally, evening prayer to end the day.

At the heart of every day are the three prayer sessions in the Church of Reconciliation, the main worship space in Taizé. Each prayer session is similar. Several opening hymns and Psalms, followed by a Gospel passage. Another hymn, then a period of silence and finally more hymns. The contemplative hymns sung throughout the week typically reflect the dominant language spoken by the pilgrims present on any given week.

Interior of a church with dozens of people kneeling or sitting on the floor facing the front of the church.
Inside the Church of Reconciliation where pilgrims join prayer services three times every day.

During their pilgrimage, the Georgetown students sang many hymns in English, French and German, owing to the large groups of pilgrims from Western Europe and another college group from the U.S. However, pilgrims that week hailed from as far away as Hong Kong and South Korea.

For Deschapelles, the international community at Taizé inspired her and allowed her to see the global nature of Christianity.

A group of young people standing in front of a bell tower.
The group of pilgrims from Georgetown in front of the bells at Taizé.

“It goes back to the idea of how Church and community can be so big. And, actually, it’s better if it’s bigger and more diverse because then you get different perspectives and get to change things up, and it’s not all an echo chamber,” she said. 

“The beautiful thing about Taizé is that it brings together all these followers of Christ, regardless of maybe they do little things here and there a little differently, but at its core, these are all people who want to follow Christ.”

In the rote structure of the day, Pitman found a space for prayer and reflection he’s never had before, especially in the midst of a hectic first year at Georgetown. It’s one of the main reasons he wanted to join the pilgrimage.

“I have been running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to do all of these things [at Georgetown],” he said. “And for once to actually have time where you have no other work and no other obligations except this one time for prayer … being given that opportunity was something that really opened my eyes to so many different aspects of that relationship with God I wasn’t getting before because I was too busy.”

Exploring a Relationship With God and Church

Mon âme se repose.”

This is the title of one of Deschapelles’ favorite Taizé hymns. In the songbooks pilgrims use to sing and pray, the translated lyrics read, “In God alone my soul can find rest and peace, in God my peace and joy. / Only in God my soul can find its rest, find its rest and peace.”

As these lyrics repeat themselves over and over for five minutes with a soft and simple melody, Deschapelles said she found comfort and rest.

“[The song] gave me comfort in the idea that I don’t have to handle things myself, that my soul can rest in peace, and that’s what Taizé felt like,” Deschapelles said. “When I sing, I’m not thinking about the next note. I’m not thinking about the past note. I’m so immersed in the present moment, and I’ve realized that is a really powerful, unique form of prayer that Taize and singing facilitates.”

A group of people sitting on benches inside a small church.
Pilgrims praying in an old village church down the road from the Taizé Community.

Pitman found comfort in the silence. While he initially didn’t know what to do during silent periods of prayer with a hundred other silent pilgrims, he realized the quiet carved out a space to explore his relationship with God. By the end of the week, he wished there was even more time for silence.

Pitman said that he seldom took the time at Georgetown to pause. Now, silent reflection and prayer are habits he plans on incorporating into his life on the Hilltop and beyond.

Returning from the pilgrimage, Deschapelles found her mindset had shifted too. She said Taizé has positively transformed her relationship with her faith and the Church and has imbued her with a spirit she will take with her to all parts of her life at Georgetown. 

“I held this idea that the Church has to be perfect for me to be involved with it … But being at Taizé with this community, this Church of people, no one was perfect, but everyone was trying their best,” she said. 

“That idea really sunk in over the week, and I’m carrying that with me now here in Campus Ministry, music ministry and just being more involved with the Church, the families that I have here, even if they’re not perfect … That community in and of itself is valuable regardless of the perfection of it.”

A dirt road in a field with a road sign reading Taize on a sunny clear day.
The surrounding landscape around the village at Taizé.

When Pitman first left for Taizé, he hoped to have a clear realization of God’s presence, a box to check so he could move on to other parts of his life. But Taizé changed his perspective. He now realizes that it’s in the “little vignettes, little moments” that he’s able to dive into his relationship with God, moments like strolling through a sleepy French village at midnight after an hour of prayer.

When Pitman returned to his dormitory that late night, he went to sleep, ready to embrace the monastic rhythm all over again the next day in Taizé.