Paris A Romanian woman slipped into a choir of singing monks during an evening prayer service and fatally slit the throat of the 90-year-old founder of an ecumenical Christian community in the presence of 2,500 horrified pilgrims in Burgundy, authorities said Wednesday.
The slaying Tuesday of Brother Roger in the Church of Reconciliation drew reactions of shock and grief from the pope, the leader of the Anglican Church and worshippers around the world.
"It happened very fast. There were some screams. We turned around. He was wounded," said Brother Emile, who witnessed the killing. "We carried him out of the church so people didn't see the terrible part. ... She slit his throat."
Brother Roger was stabbed at least twice in the neck. Bleeding profusely, he died 15 minutes later in the community house, Brother Emile said.
Tributes to the silver-haired cleric who symbolized dialogue across the Christian world poured in Wednesday to the tranquil Taize Community, snuggled in a Burgundy village north of Lyon.
Pope Benedict XVI, who had received a letter from Brother Roger on Tuesday - the day of the killing - deplored the "very sad and terrifying news." Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Church of England, called it "an indescribable shock."
The Taize Community's Web site was so inundated with messages that it crashed.
Brother Roger, whose surname was Schutz, was born of a Swiss Protestant father and a French Catholic mother. He moved to Taize in 1940 with plans to found a monastery.
He harbored Jewish refugees during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, then built the ecumenical Taize Community with a mission to reconcile all denominations of Christians and promote dialogue and peace.
Some 2,500 people - most of them young people - were worshipping in the church when the woman surged toward Brother Roger.
He was among a group of 80 brothers who form the choir, positioned in a rectangle in the center of the church. The attack occurred about 8:45 p.m., some five minutes after the service got started, said Brother Emile.
The 36-year-old intruder had visited Taize for a week in June and was considered psychologically fragile. Brother Emile said they had learned from colleagues that she was "a very sick woman in Romania" who screamed in churches.
"We asked her not to stay," Brother Emile said in a telephone interview. She returned about two days ago, bypassing the reception area.
Romanian media identified the woman as Luminita Solcan, from the northeastern city of Iasi.
Brother Roger was the second recipient of the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1974, a year after Mother Teresa was given the honor.
"When the Nazis occupied France during World War II, Brother Roger, founder and prior (director) of the Taize Community in France, harbored Jewish refugees," the Templeton citation said. "It was typical of Brother Roger's long history of helping the less fortunate."