Emmaus International

Three months before the 2003 world assembly in Ouagadougou, Abbé Pierre travelled to Ouagadougou. As a well-known and respected figure, he was received by the head of state. Abbé Pierre was accompanied by Koudbi Koala, a representative of Emmaus Africa, and Laurent Desmard, his private secretary.

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“Blaise Compaoré invited us in to his office”, remembers Koudbi Koala, “They talked together for a long time. The president thought he knew how Emmaus was set up – with rag-pickers becoming companions, repairing and selling salvaged goods in order to keep their communities running – but he was mistaken. Abbé Pierre told him all about how he met Georges – a former criminal given a death sentence for murdering his father – about how he was sent to prison and then freed on account of his good conduct, how on returning home he found his wife with another man and then wanted to end his life, and how then Abbé Pierre said to him: ‘I have nothing to give you, but you – you could come and help me help others.’ He finished his story, telling Blaise, ‘Emmaus came into being thanks to a murderer’. Laurent and I looked at each other, paralysed with fear – we were worried how he would react to such words. By drawing a parallel between Georges and Blaise, the murder of his father and Sankara, he meant that anyone can repent and be forgiven for their acts – it was a very powerful message. Did he understand the meaning of those words and decide to ignore them?”

Blaise Compaoré then decided to attend the official opening of Emmaus International’s world assembly. As a state representative, he was supposed to give an official speech. The movement did away with diplomatic protocol and asked the head of state not to take the floor and only attend the assembly as an observer, to which he agreed.

Abbé Pierre and the head of state met again a few days later along with seven members of Emmaus International’s executive committee. 

“Blaise Compaoré invited us to his private residence that time", remembers Koudbi Koala. “After a long discussion, the president stood up, showed us his garden and the plans for his future residence – which was huge – in Ouga 2000, a wealthy part of the capital. Abbé Pierre asked him, ‘Are you married?’ ’Yes’. ’Do you have any children?’ ’Yes, a daughter.’ He paused and then asked him, ‘And isn’t that enough for you? Do you really need all that?’ Again, I stood there motionless as I was afraid of his reaction and reprisals. In such a poor country, all that money could be put to better use – injected into the country’s economy – it really was a huge waste. Blaise took no notice of what he said, and continued talking….”

Koudbi concludes, “Abbé Pierre was able to send out powerful messages and talk directly to powerful individuals, without fear of the consequences.”

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