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Together opening paths of hope in Riga

Catherine, missionary in Ukraine tells us about her experience with a group of African medical students in Kyiv in the European Taize meeting in Riga



After a long wait for an invitation and last minute flight problems a representation of the English-Speaking Community of Kyiv finally made it to the European Taize Encounter in Riga, Latvia to begin the new year in a spirit of fraternity, simplicity and hope. We were given a warm welcome by Brother Benoit who knew of all the obstacles we had met on our path to bring a group of African students from four different countries from Ukraine to Latvia. The Encounter was no longer just European but had representatives from all the continents. What a feeling it was to be together with thousands of young people praying, singing and listening with the light of faith and an open heart! All the difficulties had been worth it!



How did such an unlikely group decide to spend the last few days of 2016 in Latvia, a country even colder than Ukraine? We came looking for the warmth of fraternity a place in a meeting where there are no barriers of confession, language or race. After the World Youth Day in Poland where the Ukrainian community came with English, Spanish and Ukrainian speakers the internationality and universality of the Church was clear to see. For the African students who come to Europe to study medicine and can study it in English in many cities of Ukraine, it was an eyeopener. They were welcomed by host families and felt at home. They made many new friends and saw many new aspects of the Church. They came back renewed and enthusiastic and longed to have another opportunity to taste this slice of heaven and to be able to invite their friends to have a similar experience. And so, the idea to go to Riga was born.


The Taize community have a gift of being able to welcome everyone of whatever nationality or confession. Their music has a special appeal to a wide variety of people and their message based on the gospel passages goes straight to the heart. For the young people from Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Congo, disconnected from their usual form of electronic communication it was an opportunity to communicate with God and with each other, to create new bonds and to reflect on their lives.



 The setting was beautiful, and the Latvian people shared their lives, their homes, their history and their culture with us. They are proud of their freedom, their future and their roots. In many ways, their journey from an ex-soviet country to a member of the European Union is a testament to their capacity to reform and to change and a sign of hope. In this context, Brother Alois’s message “Together opening paths of hope” was particularly poignant. Europe needs its young people more than ever to build bridges rather than walls.



The meeting consisted of times of prayer, sharing and workshops. Each one of us individually and as a country have so much to offer.  On New Year’s Eve, there was a special vigil for peace followed by fireworks and a festival of Nations. The Africans who had already met earlier in the day with Brother Parfait from Togo to talk about how to bring Taize to their own continent and to those around them, had the opportunity to perform their own music. They were joined by the Latvians, Germans, Czechs and Poles who prayed with us in our local Lutheran Church each morning and also took part in the festival. We ended our celebration by wishing each other a Happy New Year and indeed if each young person who took part brings a little of the hope and fraternity which he or she has experienced to those around him or her, the greeting will be more than words and start to become a reality in 2017.



Catherine Wakeling