PARIS (AP) – It was vespers in the Church of Reconciliation and a choir of monks was intoning the first notes of evensong amid a sea of worshippers.

In the peace and solemnity of prayer, few people in the Burgundy village paid heed to the woman who had slipped into the group of singing monks.

Suddenly, she lunged forward and sank a knife into the throat of the 90-year-old Brother Roger. He slumped forward and blood gushed from his wound.

Fifteen minutes later, the founder of the Taize Ecumenical Community who was celebrated worldwide for promoting Christian dialogue and for harboring Jews during World War II, was dead.

“It happened very fast. There were some screams. We turned around. He was wounded,” said Brother Emile, who was present when Roger was stabbed at least twice. “We carried him out of the church so people didn’t see the terrible part. … She slit his throat.”

The slaying Tuesday of Brother Roger drew reactions of shock and grief from the pope, the head of the Anglican Church and worshippers around the world.

Tributes to the silver-haired cleric poured in Wednesday to the tranquil Taize Community, snuggled in the 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 and with plans to found a monastery.

He harbored Jewish refugees during the World War II Nazi occupation of France, 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 teens who had gathered at Taize for youth prayer meeting – were worshipping in the church when the woman surged forward and stabbed Brother Roger.

He was among a group of 80 brothers who form the choir, kneeling in a rectangle in the center of the church. The attack occurred about 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, some five minutes after the service got started, said Brother Emile.

The 36-year-old intruder, who has not been identified by name, had visited Taize for a week in June and was considered psychologically fragile. 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,” Emile said in a telephone interview. She returned about two days ago, bypassing the reception area.

On Tuesday night, she jumped a small symbolic hedge separating the choir from the congregation to join the monks. Emile said brothers thought she may be the mother of one of the children.

In the first chaotic moments after the attack, Emile said, Brother Roger “was still very conscious and you couldn’t tell what had happened.”

Then, it became clear.

“The blood was gushing out of his throat,” said Emile. The attacker offered no resistance when she was grabbed.

The prosecutor in nearby Macon, Jean-Louis Coste, said the suspect had bought the knife the day before and her intentions were clear.

“It would appear for now there is little doubt that this was premeditated since she bought a knife the day before and voluntary homicide is manifest,” Coste told reporters.

An autopsy was performed on Brother Roger on Wednesday but results were not immediately made public.

The Taize community appointed 51-year-old Brother Alois, a German Roman Catholic, to succeed its leader, said Brother Emile, acting as spokesman on Wednesday.

He said that Alois, born in Stuttgart, had initially been selected eight years ago by Brother Roger. He arrived in Taize early Wednesday, called back from the huge Roman Catholic gathering under way in Cologne, Germany, known as World Youth Day.

Pilgrims held at Taize held an all-night vigil.

“There was lots of emotion last night. At the same time, there was a kind of peace this morning,” Brother Emile said.

“Brother Roger died as he lived, praying at the center of his community,” said the World Council of Churches. The body’s acting secretary general, Genevieve Jacques, said his ecumenical work “has been enormously influential.”

Pope Benedict, speaking at a general audience, said that Brother Roger, in his letter to the pontiff, “expressed his desire to come to Rome as soon as possible to meet me and to tell me how the whole community of Taize intends to walk alongside the pope.”

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 TaizDe Community in France, harbored Jewish refugees,” the Templeton citation said. “It was typical of Brother Roger’s long history of helping the less fortunate.”

The Taize community, which the late Pope John Paul II visited in 1986, each year draws some 100,000 people, about 17 to 30 years old.

Brother Roger’s funeral was set for Tuesday.

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