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Christian leader stabbed to death during evening prayers

Slaying in France shocks community

PARIS -- A Romanian woman slipped into a choir of singing monks during an evening prayer service and fatally slit the throat of the 90-year-old founder of an ecumenical Christian community in the presence of 2,500 horrified pilgrims in Burgundy, authorities said yesterday.

The slaying Tuesday of Brother Roger in the Church of Reconciliation drew shock and grief from the pope, the leader of the Anglican Church, and worshippers around the world.

''It happened very fast. There were some screams. We turned around. He was wounded," said Brother Emile, who witnessed the killing. ''We carried him out of the church so people didn't see the terrible part. . . . She slit his throat."

Brother Roger was stabbed at least twice in the neck. Bleeding profusely, he died 15 minutes later in the community house, Brother Emile said.

Tributes to the silver-haired cleric who symbolized dialogue across the Christian world poured in yesterday to the tranquil Taize Community, snuggled in a Burgundy village north of Lyon.

Pope Benedict XVI, who had received a letter from Brother Roger on Tuesday -- the day of the killing -- deplored the ''very sad and terrifying news."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Church of England, called it ''an indescribable shock."

M. Thomas Shaw, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, said in a statement that Brother Roger's greatest legacy was his work with young people. Members of the diocese's Youth Leadership Academy traveled to Taize in July 2002, a visit that many of the participants termed ''transformative," according to the bishop's statement.

The Taize Community's website was so inundated with messages that it crashed.

Brother Roger, whose surname was Schutz, was born to a Swiss Protestant father and a French Catholic mother. He moved to Taize in 1940 with plans to found a monastery.

He harbored Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, then built the ecumenical Taize Community with a mission to reconcile all denominations of Christians and promote dialogue and peace.

Some 2,500 people -- most of them young -- were worshipping in the church when the woman surged forward and stabbed Brother Roger.

He was among a group of 80 brothers who form the choir, positioned in a rectangle in the center of the church. The attack occurred about 8:45 p.m., five minutes after the service got started, Brother Emile said.

The 36-year-old intruder, who was not named, visited Taize for a week in June and was considered psychologically fragile. Brother Emile said they had learned from colleagues that she was ''a very sick woman in Romania" who screamed in churches.

''We asked her not to stay," Brother Emile said in a telephone interview. She returned about two days ago, bypassing the reception area.

On Tuesday night, she jumped a small, symbolic hedge separating the choir from the congregation to join the monks. Brother Emile said brothers thought she might be the mother of one of the children. The attacker offered no resistance when she was grabbed.

The prosecutor in nearby Macon, Jean-Louis Coste, said the suspect had bought the knife the day before and her intentions were clear.

''It would appear for now there is little doubt that this was premeditated, since she bought a knife the day before and voluntary homicide is manifest," Coste told reporters. He said she had tried for several months to contact Brother Roger and told investigators she was trying to get his attention.

An autopsy was performed on Brother Roger yesterday, but results were not immediately made public.

The Taize community appointed 51-year-old Brother Alois, a German Roman Catholic, to succeed its leader, said Brother Emile, acting as spokesman yesterday.

Alois, born in Stuttgart, Germany, had initially been selected eight years ago by Brother Roger. He arrived in Taize early yesterday, called back from the huge Roman Catholic gathering underway in Cologne, Germany, known as World Youth Day.

Pilgrims at Taize held an all-night vigil.

''There was lots of emotion last night. At the same time, there was a kind of peace this morning," Brother Emile said.

''Brother Roger died as he lived, praying at the center of his community," said the World Council of Churches.

The body's acting secretary general, Genevieve Jacques, said his ecumenical work ''has been enormously influential."

Pope Benedict, speaking at a general audience, said that Brother Roger, in his letter to the pontiff, ''expressed his desire to come to Rome as soon as possible to meet me and to tell me how the whole community of Taize intends to walk alongside the pope."

Brother Roger was the second recipient of the $1 million Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion in 1974, a year after Mother Teresa was given the honor.

The Taize community, which the late Pope John Paul II visited in 1986, each year draws some 100,000 people, about 17 to 30 years old.

Brother Roger's funeral is set for next Tuesday.

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