It happened at Taizé - a monastic community in the middle of France. I'd been there a few years before 2006, and I returned one or two times more. The person in question was the founding brother of the community, Fr. Roger. Taizé is well known for its for ministry serving young people across Europe, as well as for its attempts to bridge denominational divisions, so entrenched in the sometimes painful history of continental Christianity.
I remember the moment itself clearly. It was evening prayer on Thursday 17th August 2006. I was twenty years old. I was sat about thirty feet behind Br. Roger in the main church, to his left. The lighting was low, the building full of worshippers. I'd just been back to my tent to get some stuff, after sharing dinner with others. We were looking forward to an evening of conversation and socialising. We were in the middle of worship - and then, at this moment, the silence was pierced. A scream, like I'd never heard before or since.
Br. Roger was killed by a mentally unstable lady who had stepped over the barrier, seemingly to embrace him. She had in fact intended great, unspeakable harm.
I've not spoken much about it since. My wife has often suggested - just from living with me and knowing me intimately - that it has in fact had a far greater impact than I've ever cared to think about. The scream in particular stuck with me. It lingered on me. I couldn't shake it (try as I might). I'm not sure whose scream it was, although it's been suggested it was that of a young boy sat next to Br. Roger. All I know is that I've never been able to tolerate screams since. Shortly after returning home I started to notice subtle but sinister signs of change, like how I was becoming panicked by unexpected loud noises, and screams especially.
The next thing I knew, Br. Roger was being rushed out the church by two or three other brothers. My fading mental 'photograph' of the moment suggests there was blood on the white of his Taizé robes.
The community's first instinct was not to panic, nor to gossip, and neither did we stall and prevaricate. Instead, we worshipped. We sang the Lord's Prayer. It comforted many of us to think that one of the last things he heard would have been the words of Jesus, shaped for his praise & glory.
We all eventually returned to our tents and sleeping areas, and were called back to the church by the chime of the bells, which sounded for an unprecedented fourth time that day. (The other three times normally call the community to pray - morning, noon and night.) The police forensic team were finishing up their photographs, still adorned in white plastic overalls. When the service started, there was prayer, there were tears. And most memorably of all, there was an immediate call to forgive the lady who had killed Br. Roger.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matt 5:3-12]
I know evil; I felt it that day. True evil is more than unsettling, it is quite literally deathly. It fell on the congregation like a sooted sheet. More than a pit in the stomach or a general depression, this was more indicative of that old fashioned word: dread. Something - or someone - had made his presence known. A Spectre At The Feast. But that old serpent never gets the final word.
We do not grieve as those without hope. [1 Thess 4]
We have been given Christ, conqueror over Satan, who dispels the fear of death. [Heb 2]
We have been given all, but these three remain: faith, hope and love. [1 Cor 13]
These three remain.