Emmaus International

On 24th May 1969, the first World Assembly of Emmaus groups took place at the Federal Parliament in Bern, Switzerland. This was a founding event for Emmaus International, with the adoption of the Universal Manifesto. Exactly 50 years later, over 180 representatives of Emmaus International from 4 continents met at the same location, including the "veterans" of Emmaus International who have been part of the movement since the very first World Assembly. In our series “Speaking of Our Origins”, we will hear from key figures and custodians of the memory of our movement who, based on their own experiences, tell us about the early days and the development of Emmaus International.

Efrain Olivera

Efraín Olivera Lerena was formerly a coordinator of the Emmaus Uruguay community and a regional elected member of Emmaus International. When the founding General Assembly in Bern was held in 1969, he had already been a companion for 6 years. He, and his fellow community members, could not afford to attend the assembly, and as such a priest friend of the community represented the group in Bern.

In this interview, Efraín tells us about the difficult years they lived through in Uruguay when the dictatorship began in 1981 and the struggles that their community led on a daily basis. “We said we wanted to achieve three points: to live in a self-sufficient community; help those who suffered most; and thirdly, something we described as “higher aims”, which was to do something to bring about change, to get rid of the dictatorship and return to democracy”.

Inspired by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to the dictatorship in Argentina, Efraín and some friends decided to set up the Peace and Justice Service (Serpaj). However, the community was divided by this decision to collectively become involved in this very risky initiative. Efraín continued his work at the Peace and Justice Service, whilst still being involvement in Emmaus. “I felt that it was important to be together to fight longstanding challenges such as poverty, and also new realities that didn’t previously exist, such as an increasingly globalised world, where things happen that affect those who suffer most and other issues, such as climate change or migration”, he explains.

Watch Pépé Aravena’s interview here