GENEVA (RNS/ENInews) World Christian leaders are paying tribute to the ecumenical Taize community in eastern France, which is marking the 70th anniversary of its founding in 1940 by Brother Roger Schutz, who died in 2005.

In a message in advance of the Saturday (Aug. 14) commemoration, Pope Benedict XVI described Schutz as a pioneer in the difficult paths toward unity among the disciples of Christ.

Seventy years ago, he began a community that continues to see thousands of young adults, searching for meaning in their lives, come to it from around the world, welcoming them in prayer and allowing them to experience a personal relationship with God, Benedict said.

Schutz died at age 90 after being attacked with a knife by a mentally disturbed woman during evening prayers on Aug. 16, 2005 at the ecumenical community’s headquarters in Burgundy.

Schutz, a Swiss Protestant, arrived in the village of Taize on Aug. 20, 1940 with the idea of founding an ecumenical monastic community.

With him and the brothers who shared his vision …, Taize has become a true center, a focal point and a place of gathering; a place of deepening in prayer, of listening and humility, said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodoxy.

From the 1960s onwards, thousands of young people made pilgrimages to Taize to experience its ecumenical spirituality and unique worship styles.

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, described the community as a model for attending to the spiritual and physical needs of the whole people of God and in particular the needs of young people.

After Schutz’s death, Brother Alois, a German Catholic, became prior of the community.

Today at Taize, a hundred brothers, Catholics and Protestants, live together. And the community is often visited by young believers from the Orthodox churches, said Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, described Schutz as one of the few figures who truly change the climate of a religious culture, not by the exercise either of force or of cheap popularity, but by a lifelong practice of Christ-like authority.

Though Schutz remained a Protestant until his death, he attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and received the Catholic Eucharist from the hands of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who weeks later would become Pope Benedict XVI.

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