PARIS - Church leaders and politicians joined an outpouring of sorrow yesterday after the stabbing death of Brother Roger, the founder of a French ecumenical community, who was attacked by a woman during evening prayers Tuesday.
The frail 90-year-old monk died of his wounds shortly after the attack at the headquarters of the community in Taize, in south Burgundy. His assailant was a 36-year-old Romanian who had tried to join the community this month, authorities said yesterday. They identified her only by her first name, Luminita.
"He was a man of peace," French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said. "He had managed to establish a spiritual dialogue between the [Roman] Catholic Church and other churches. We won't forget his message."
Pope Benedict XVI learned of the monk's death while at his retreat at Castel Gandolfo on the eve of his departure for World Youth Day ceremonies in Cologne, Germany. Expressing sorrow and horror, the pope said he had received a "very moving and very friendly letter" from Brother Roger a day earlier.
Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, said, "Brother Roger was one of the best-loved Christian leaders of our time."
Brother Roger, whose surname was Schutz, founded the Taize ecumenical community in 1940, when he was 25. He and his fellow monks committed their lives to celibacy, sharing their worldly goods and emphasizing simplicity.
Tuesday night, about 2,500 people were in the Taize church for evening prayers, accompanied by a choir of monks. Alain Duphil, a worshiper from southern France, said he saw a woman rise and walk toward Brother Roger.
"Many people thought she was a mother going to be next to her child because there were many children around Brother Roger," Duphil told the Le Parisien newspaper. "The woman went behind Brother Roger, and some people thought she was strangling him. Someone screamed. A monk and some young guy grabbed her."
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