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French Religious Leader Killed at Prayer

The French-based ecumenical Taize community and faithful worldwide are in shock after the murder of the group's elderly founder. The killing has cast a shadow over the Catholic youth festival taking place in Cologne.

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Brother Roger Schütz was a leader in the ecumenical movement

Brother Roger Schütz, 90, was stabbed and killed late Tuesday during a prayer service in his church in Taize, in eastern France's Burgundy region. He was one of the world's leading ecumenical leaders and known by many simply as Brother Roger.

A 36-year-old mentally disturbed Romanian woman was in police custody for allegedly plunging a knife into his back three times in front of 2,500 mostly young people attending the evening service.

As a German cleric arrived in the region Wednesday to take over the group, messages of sadness came from Pope Benedict XVI, French government ministers and other dignitaries.

The pope speaking during his weekly general audience at his summer residence south of Rome, called the murder "terrifying news."

Galerie: Papst Benedikt Bild 7, 1. Messe von Papst Benedikt

Pope Benedict XVI

"This most sad news strikes me even more because just yesterday I received a letter from him," the pope said.

In the letter, Schütz said that although he would not be able to attend the Catholic World Youth Day festival in Cologne, he was thinking of the pope and those attending the event, the pontiff said.

Shock at World Youth Day

In Cologne, where the Catholic festival is in its second day, the response was dismay. The general secretary of the event, Heiner Koch, said in a statement that Schütz had a very strong connection to the Catholic Church and that he and others were thankful that the Taize founder had participated in the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Jugendliche auf dem Weg zum Weltjugendtag nach Köln

World Youth Day

The archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, said the young people gathered for World Youth Day would remember Schütz in their prayers with both thankfulness for his life and sadness over his death.

The Taize community has set up a spiritual center in Cologne for the youth festival. Barbara Eder, an Austrian who had come to Germany for the festival, was at a loss for words when asked how the community felt.

"We simply don't know where we will go from here," she told reporters.

Preached tolerance

Schütz was credited with infusing youth around the world with Christian teachings and religious tolerance.

Bruder Roger bei Messerattacke tödlich verletzt

He was known by most as simply "Brother Roger"

A Swiss-born Protestant with a degree in theology, Schütz started his tranquil movement in 1940 to provide a refuge for those fleeing the turmoil of World War II. He was 25 when he bought a small house in the village of Taize, in the French region of Burgundy. During the Holocaust, he took in and protected Jewish refugees. After the war, he looked after German prisoners of war in France.

He devoted the rest of his life to the reconciliation of Christian churches and won numerous international prizes honoring his work, including a UNESCO prize for peace education in 1988.

He had recently indicated that he would give up many of his functions in the community later this year because of his advanced age.

The Taize community is a Christian men's monastic order focused on meditation and prayer, but has developed over the years into an international pilgrimage welcoming tens of thousands of young people every year for spiritual reflection and prayer.

Expressions of grief

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said he regarded Schütz, or Brother Roger, as one of the "great contemporary personalities of religious life."

"Brother Roger and his companions gave protection from the Nazis to Jewish refugees, have been involved with immigrants and are today close to people living in developing countries throughout the world," he said.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin issued a statement expressing his "deep sadness," saying Schütz "will remain in our memories as a towering figure of our religious history."

He is being replaced by his nominated successor, Brother Alois Leser, a 51-year-old German Catholic who became a member of the Taize community 32 years ago and travelled widely in eastern Europe for the group.

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