*By Odair Pedroso Mateus
You may miss the cry of the tortured Christ on the cross, carved by the Brazilian artist Guido Rocha, if you do not look carefully at your right hand side as you enter the dark-wooden chapel of the monastic Community of Grandchamp, a hamlet near the Lake of Neuchâtel, in Switzerland.
Rocha was in prison and tortured by the military dictatorships in Brazil and later on in Chile. Meditating his disturbing “tortured Christs”, Hans-Ruedi Weber noted in his book On a Friday Noon: Meditations under the Cross, that Guido Rocha came to realise under cruel suffering that Jesus’ cry on the cross had become for him “a great promise: here was a man who had passed through the deepest sufferings and nevertheless remained fully human, fulfilling his mission of love, being a man for others, until the ultimate hour of truth.”
The cry of the tortured Christ of Grandchamp is not in the Community’s chapel by chance. In a time when Brazilian evangelical denominations chose to remain silent about the violations of human rights in Brazil, Guido Rocha, then in exile in Geneva, found support in Grandchamp and offered the Community in gratitude a crucifixion version of his “cry”.
Photo: Odair Pedroso Mateus/WCC
Rocha was not the only one. Grandchamp was also a refuge for the late Guatemalan poet and theologian Julia Esquivel, who was equally persecuted in her country and authored They threatened us with Resurrection.
As our Rome-Geneva group joined the sisters of Grandchamp for the liturgy of the hours, during the recent preparations for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2021, it occurred to me that the spirituality of their book of common prayer drinks from the wells of the spiritual, biblical and ecumenical renewal that marked European Christianity between the two world wars and after.
It is this same renewal that was the sap of the modern ecumenical movement. It was this same renewal that was the sap of the Taizé Community: the vision that God’s design for the cosmos, made fully manifest in Jesus of Nazareth the Christ and attested in Scriptures, calls us to a life in community and communion that holds together prayer and action: prayer in the heart of compassionate action in and for the world that God loves; it calls us to visibly manifest the One Church, by overcoming the scandal of sinful divisions, as a sign and servant – or if you prefer as “sacrament” – of the promised triumph over fragmentation and hate, the promised recapitulation of all things in the head of the one body.
This vision becomes a call to pray for and at times to welcome those whose humanity is disfigured by violence; those who are engaged in sustainable forms of agriculture on behalf of future generations; those who are persecuted for their faith; or those who are serving in ecumenical dialogue.
The sisters of Grandchamp come from different cultural and confessional backgrounds. Since the early days of the Community, in the 1940s, they faced the challenge of living and praying together across diversity and sometimes division. This brought them closer to pioneers of 20th century spiritual ecumenism such as Father Paul Couturier, who renewed the octave of prayer for Christian unity, and Frère Roger of Taizé. In a letter of 1940 to Mother Geneviève, the first prieure of Grandchamp, Paul Couturier wrote that “…no spiritual retreat should take place without having Christians leave it with acute suffering over separations and the determination to work for unity through fervent prayer and progressive purification”. And he concluded: “for me, the problem of unity is primarily and fundamentally a problem of the orientation of one’s inner life”.
Firmly attached to spiritual ecumenism, the sisters of Grandchamp accepted the invitation to prepare the resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2021, the year of the 11th assembly of the World Council of Churches. They had not yet been informed of the theme of the next WCC assembly - “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity” – when, inspired by Jesus’ image of discipleship as the vine and the vine pruning (John 15), they chose as the theme of the 2021 week of prayer Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit (cf. John 15: 5-9).
*Odair Pedroso Mateus is a director of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (WCC).