Emmaus International

Massimo Barberis, originally from Turin, is a companion with the Point Rouge community in Marseille. His experiences in Italy, Benin, and France have each brought him closer to what he calls the “Emmaus Philosophy.”

When Massimo first heard about Emmaus, he didn’t think much of it. But when he heard the word “solidarity,” he felt moved. At his first World Assembly, he spoke with the contagious passion and generosity of someone who is truly committed to change.

 MG 4862 bdHow did you become a companion?
I started out working in Zagarolo, near Rome. I was helping out with pick-ups and deliveries, with furniture, as a companion; we all lived in the same house. It was a wonderful, familial setting, with all of us living together. One day someone told me about Africa, about Cotonou, Benin; and I asked the community leader of my Rome Community, Nino, if I could become a companion there. All of Emmaus Italy mobilized so that I could go there. I went to Africa and became familiar with Benin; I helped people, and I witnessed a lot of poverty. When I met children who needed potable water, I was shocked. Here, we use water like it’s just a normal, everyday thing; over there, it’s completely vital. While I was there, I met some French people and became curious about going to France, because after all Emmaus started out in France; I felt like going to France would be the best way to really understand the Emmaus philosophy, even though I didn’t know a single word of French.  It was difficult to learn the language at first, but I thought about how small the difficulty was compared with the difficulty of other problems one faces in life; things were different than in Italy, but it wasn’t a big deal. I stayed in Arles first, and this allowed me to participate in the World Assembly this year. This is my first World Assembly.

Where do you live now?
Now I’m a companion in Marseille. I have discussed the possibility of becoming a community leader with a few people, but I’m not sure that that’s what I want. Everyone talks a lot about solidarity, but I’ll give you an example, yesterday at the cafeteria there was a woman whose legs were hurting, so I helped her by putting away her tray, and everyone asked me why I did it. I did it because for me, solidarity is spontaneously helping someone with a passing need, - I would rather be a companion than work in the world of solidarity. I feel more confident as a companion; I wouldn’t feel confident as a community leader, on a human level I feel more at ease as a companion.

This is your first world assembly. Does the political side of the movement feel different when you’re working in the field?
This is a complicated topic. Yesterday I attended a workshop about building awareness and waking people’s consciences. Our community leader wants people to bring the movements to the streets, to protest; he wants people to know the movement and to know that the organization is fighting for the wellbeing of everyone. I feel like this is important too, we need to go out into the streets; there are a lot of us, and if all of the companions and volunteers go out and protest in the streets, people will take notice and wonder what we stand for. We need to take action, and push people to take action, rather than continuing to say, “we must take action.” We have to find the courage to do this. What I like about being a companion, and about my community, is how our role requires us to always be thinking about solutions for problems, and ways of taking action.  

What does Abbé Pierre mean to you?
Abbé Pierre found the courage to raise consciousness, to raise awareness; he is an example for me and for many other people. I would compare the importance of his work to the importance of Gandhi’s work; they both changed the world. I try to follow in his footsteps and fully understand his philosophy. I would like to continue down the path of solidarity and to continue to help people. I truly admire him because he dedicated all of his life to these pursuits; he was an incredible person.

You’ve spent time with three different Emmaus Communities, in Italy, France, and Benin.   What interconnections do you see between these places, the Abbé Pierre, Emmaus, and solidarity?
I see humanity. I am primarily a human being; secondarily, a companion. When am speaking with community leaders, I speak first as myself, second as a community leader. I want people to respect me as a person above all. Abbé Pierre was above all a human being. He changed a lot of things, but he was a human being at the end of the day. I met a lot of people in Africa, Italy, and France, and they were all companions, whether community leaders or volunteers; but men and women are what truly bring Emmaus together, in my opinion.

In your opinion, what is the best way to fight poverty in the world?
Rich people have to stop only thinking of themselves. When we say that everyone in the world should take to the streets tomorrow, to build awareness, we know that they are doing it in part so that the rich will begin to use a small part of their wealth to fight poverty. There needs to be a pretty serious awakening if we are going to successfully help Africa and all of the countries that are truly in need. I don’t think any one individual can win this fight alone; everyone has to work together to change the world.