Brother Roger was attacked by a 36-year-old Romanian woman as he said prayers at the last of the three daily services at the Taizé ecumenical community, which he founded in 1940.
The woman, named only as Luminita, slashed the frail, Swiss-born prior three times in the throat as he sat surrounded by local children, addressing a congregation of young people who had made the pilgrimage to Taizé from all over the world. He died 15 minutes later in theChurch of Reconciliation.
The woman, who was seized by monks, told French investigators she had wanted to "catch the attention" of Brother Roger but had not meant to kill him. Other members of the community said she had been living in Taizé on and off all summer. She seemed psychologically disturbed but not aggressive or dangerous.
Investigators said they were looking into reports that she had bought the knife the day before the attack. If so, she could face a charge of "assassination", the most serious category of murder under the French legal code.
Pope Benedict yesterday led tributes to the Lutheran Brother Roger, which were echoed by Christian leaders all over the world. The Pope spoke of a "sad and terrifying" attack on a man dedicated to peace and healing the divisions of humanity. He said he had received a "moving and friendly" letter from Brother Roger on the day of his murder.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said: "This is an indescribable shock. Brother Roger was one of the best-loved Christian leaders of our time and hundreds of thousands will be feeling his loss very personally, and remembering him in prayer and gratitude."
President Jacques Chirac said Brother Roger was "one of the most remarkable servants of the values of respect and tolerance". The German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder described him as one of the "great contemporary personalities of religious life".
Born in 1915 in a village in the Swiss Jura, Roger Louis Schutz-Marsauche was the son of a Swiss Lutheran minister and a French mother. He entered France on foot after the country's defeat by Nazi Germany in 1940, intending to found a religious community dedicated to peace and healing the divisions in the Church. He chose to settle in a tiny village in southern Burgundy after an elderly local woman offered him food.
During the war, Brother Roger sheltered Jewish and other refugees from the Nazis and, at the end of the war, fed and clothed German prisoners.
The Taizé community has grown to include 100 monks from 30 different countries and almost all Christian denominations. There has been some controversy among Protestants in recent years about the alleged "drift to Rome" of the community. Several Taizé brothers have been ordained in the Catholic Church.
Nonetheless, the village has become a place of pilgrimage for Christians - especially young Christians - from all over the world. Its fame has been spread partly by the simple but haunting "Taizé music" - songs and chants developed by Brother Roger with the help of a French musician, Jacques Berthier.
The public prosecutor for the Mâcon area of southern Burgundy, Jean-Louis Coste, told a press conference yesterday morning that Brother Roger's assailant had given a confused and "unsatisfactory" explanation for the attack.
"She said she wanted to attract his attention but not to kill him," M. Coste said. "She said she wanted to speak to Brother Roger but could not because of the crowds ... which seems like a somewhat unsatisfactory explanation. There is clearly a psychiatric problem but she seems outwardly sane. We have asked for further examinations."
The woman is believed to have arrived in Taizé several days ago. However, monks said she was believed to have made other visits to the area in previous weeks.
Brother Maxime, who was present at the press conference, said: "She was here for several days in June. A brother who spoke to her realised that she had psychiatric problems but said that she was absolutely not aggressive ... She wanted to join the community."
At the entrance to the Church of Reconciliation in Taizé is a sign in many languages, which reads: "Let all who enter here be reconciled, brother with brother, sister with sister, nation with nation."
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