World Christian leaders are paying tribute this week to the ecumenical community of Taizé in eastern France, which is marking its foundation in 1940 by Brother Roger Schutz, who died in 2005.

In an Aug. 14 message to Brother Alois, who now heads the community, 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,” Pope Benedict said.

Schutz, then aged 90, died after being attacked with a knife by a woman said by police to be mentally disturbed during evening prayers on Aug. 16, 2005 at Taizé, near Macon in Burgundy.

In the early years of World War II, Schutz, a Swiss Protestant, arrived in the village of Taizé on Aug. 20, 1940 with the idea of founding an ecumenical monastic community.

“With him and the brothers who shared his vision and his tension, Taizé 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 Bartholomeos I, a spiritual leader in eastern Orthodoxy.

From the 1960s on, thousands of young people, initially from Europe and then from further afield, made their way to Taizé to experience its ecumenical spirituality.

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 Taizé a hundred brothers, Catholics and Protestants, live together. And the community is often visited by young believers from the Orthodox churches,” stated Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“The thousands of young people who visit Taizé and take part in the meetings organized each year by the community in various European countries show convincingly that the Gospel message of God’s love can still find a living echo in people’s hearts today,” he said.

The 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.”

During his life, Schutz also became close to the Roman Catholic Church.

Shortly before his death, Schutz attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome, where he received the Catholic Eucharist from the hands of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI.