Emmaus International

From 1st September to 31st October 2015, the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre (CAPE in French) in Esteville, France, will be hosting an exhibition on the theme of “Abbé Pierre in caricature and in press cartoons”. But why was Abbé Pierre such an object of fascination for the media?

For decades, Abbé Pierre was a frequent source of inspiration, both for the media and press cartoonists. His physical appearance and choice of dress lent themselves well to caricature. His distinctive appearance, from head to toe, made it easy for cartoonists to draw him. These artists made use of his distinctive features to express their admiration, send out messages, criticise society and politicians, and to echo, in their own way, Abbé Pierre’s ideas and campaigns.

In the 1950s, French society had never known someone like Abbé Pierre: this priest, who had been a scout, monk, member of the Resistance and MP, was building houses all over the place with the help of men who had lost everything and convincing people from all backgrounds to take part in his work or to support it. Cartoonists were relatively gentle with Abbé Pierre, who was, after all, admired almost universally. His stature, life experience, kindness and constant devotion to those who had been shunned by society gave him a credibility and an esteem that it was difficult to disagree with. But, despite this, Abbé Pierre did occasionally take a few punches from cartoonists of all stripes.

In general, cartoonists have used Abbé Pierre’s image to call out contemporary social problems, including poverty and inadequate housing, ineffectual political leaders, the selfishness of the upper classes, increases in unemployment, the widening gap between the rich and poor, political spin, the role of the Church, the questionable merit of certain television programmes, and the hypocrisy of the charity “business”.


For two years, Emmaus International, Abbé Pierre’s sole heir, has been working hard to collect, classify and digitalise press cuttings featuring cartoons of Abbé Pierre, in both French and foreign newspapers, using the Abbé Pierre and Emmaus archives which are kept at the French national archives of the working world (ANMT) in Roubaix.
This painstaking work has allowed us to put together a selection of several hundred press cartoons, published in France or in other countries from 1947 to the present day. Some of the cartoons are controversial, some are a call to action, and some are just for fun.

The exhibition allows us to keep Abbé Pierre’s memory alive so that even today he can continue to influence those with a conscience and the will to make the world a better place.
Some of the better-known cartoonists featured are Jean Bellus, Bynet, Cabu, Cardon, Jacques Faizant, Guiraud, Lefred-Thouron, Henri Monier, Peynet, Piem, Plantu, Ranson, Riss and Wozniak.

Let’s shine the spotlight on some of the cartoons featured in the exhibition:

In July-August 1959, Abbé Pierre visited most countries in South America and some budding Emmaus groups.

150818 Caricature abbe pierre argentine 1

While he was in Buenos Aires, the Argentine newspaper Criticas published the following cartoon, showing the Emmaus founder’s international renown:

“Abbé Pierre’s presence in our capital could not have come at a better time.

If we continue to have to tighten our belts because of these financial problems, it won’t be long before we’re all ragpickers”.

This cartoon strip summarises the Emmaus movement’s work and the work of the Svalorna (Emmaus groups) in Finland. It was published in Finnish newspaper Nya Pressen in 1965.

150818 Caricature abbe pierre finlande 2

We can see Abbé Pierre standing in front of the house in Neuilly-Plaisance (France) with plans under his arm and a toolbox in his hand; two homeless people arriving in the community; and ragpickers (lump, in Finnish) working to raise money, which is sent to Neuilly-Plaisance and pays for volunteers (known as swallows) to travel by boat to the slums in Cherian Nagar (India) and Lima (Peru), where they work alongside local Emmaus groups.

In 1994, Abbé Pierre was the most popular public figure in France (based on a biannual survey: a title which he was awarded 16 times!). During the campaign for the 1995 presidential elections, candidates took up the theme of the “right to housing”, appropriating Abbé Pierre’s work and ideas to win votes. 

150818 Caricature abbe pierre recuperation 3

As a result, in December 1994, French satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné published a cartoon which featured Abbé Pierre musing: “With Emmaus, I used to recycle goods. Now it’s me that’s being recycled!”

Five years after his death, cartoonists were still using Abbé Pierre in their drawings. In 2012, to mark 100 years since his birth, cartoonist Ysope dedicated several cartoons to him.

150818 Caricature abbe pierre ressusciteur 4

In this one, Abbé Pierre is being held back by an angel as he tries to reach the “resuscitator” so that he can go back down to earth “to go to help the poor!”
- What’s all this racket?
- It’s the Abbé – he wants to use the resuscitator…
- … to go to help the poor!

Discover the rest of the exhibition from 1st September to 31st October 2015:

At the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre (CAPE)
76690 Esteville
Open to the public every day from 10am to 6pm
(Entry included with the ticket for the permanent exhibition: Full price 6 euros / Concessions 4 euros).

At the Club de la presse in Haute-Normandie
49 rue Saint-Eloi
76000 Rouen
Open to the public Monday to Friday from 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm (+ some evenings depending on the programme; free entry)