Emmaus International

With its elaborate set design and regular events, the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre has been working to promote and uphold the memory of Abbé Pierre and the Emmaus movement since 2012. Interview with the Director of the Centre, Philippe Dupont.

Philippe DupontWhere did the idea of the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre come from?

The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre was born of public demand and the wishes of Abbé Pierre’s family and the Emmaus movement. Following Abbé Pierre’s death and his burial in Esteville, almost 3,000 visitors came every year to visit his tomb, the chapel and the room in which he had lived. There was already a simple system in place at that time to welcome visitors and provide them with information, since people had started visiting Esteville during Abbé Pierre’s lifetime in order to meet him. I can give you an example - Abbé Pierre used to try and keep Thursdays to himself without any visitors – he called this his “desert time” - but he always struggled not to be interrupted by people who wanted to see him. We decided to open the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre to welcome visitors such as these, give them a comfortable place to stay and provide them with a wealth of selected, well-illustrated information.

What is the objective of the APEC?

The objective of the APEC is to perpetuate the memory of Abbé Pierre, to keep it alive, to show that his thoughts and actions are still highly relevant. We want to present Abbé Pierre in all his complexity, beyond what visitors may already know about him. Many people are surprised to learn about his remarkable life experience and the scope of his work - his commitment to the Resistance movement, his political struggles, the international dimension of the Emmaus movement and the shipwreck he survived in 1963, to name just a few examples.

Describe the set design

The set design is of a high standard and is admired by all our visitors. The design choices made have proven to be very appropriate. The information is specifically selected. There is a good balance between the texts, photos, videos and objects that are exhibited. The set design is educational, progressive and simple. Just like Abbé Pierre, you could say. There are lots of little features that people enjoy: small glass cases that you can open up, screens on the walls, a projection onto an open book, drawers containing little booklets, etc. The visit to Abbé Pierre’s room and chapel is very emotional. The chapel is a magical place and his room is busting with things, unpretentious and unusual. These are “places where the spirit breathes”, as the poet [Maurice Barrès] said…

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How are you promoting this initiative?

We are working to develop our communications as much as possible and to get involved in cultural and tourism networks. The heritage site is open seven days a week! We have also developed a whole range of services and facilities: guided tours, an educational booklet, school activities, a bookshop, an antiquarian bookshop, a bar, group catering services, lodging facilities and a conference room.
The calendar of events that we have established over time is designed to serve as the engine of the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre. The concept is “A living memory for everyone”, with six recurring events organised each year. On 22 January, the year kicks of with a memorial march to mark the anniversary of Abbé Pierre’s death. In the springtime, we put on an exhibition of naive, primitive and outsider artworks – “The Genius of the Modest”. Then we organise the “Abbé Pierre Cup” (solidarity football tournament). After that there is a huge sale on the last Sunday in July. A one-day festival for children - “The Children’s Fete” - has been proposed to mark the anniversary of Abbé Pierre’s birth. Lastly, in the autumn there is an exhibition of press drawings. This year we will be presenting “Abbé Pierre in caricatures and cartoons” – several hundreds of illustrations dating from 1947 to the present day.

In what way are Abbé Pierre’s thoughts and attitudes still relevant?

To this day, Abbé Pierre remains a benchmark, a model and a huge source of inspiration. His kindness and openness to others serve as an antidote to the selfishness and irrational fears that we see in today’s world. Abbé Pierre was like a beacon, a symbol of optimism. He touched people. He proved that many things are possible, that we can produce great miracles from small things.
All his struggles remain very current. He was a pioneer and a visionary in many areas - housing, reuse and recycling, the fight against household debt, fair trade, food banks, integration through employment, etc.

Why is it important to keep this memory alive?

I think that upholding this memory allows us to move the world forward, to the extent that we can. Abbé Pierre’s memory encourages goodwill, generates energy and sets benchmarks. Abbé Pierre was a person who gave himself to others. His personality and his commitments merged. His physical appearance, which was so distinctive, attests to that. There is no mistake – he was a truly extraordinary person. It is important to realise that, indirectly, Abbé Pierre continues to save people - even after his death, which is pretty rare.

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As Abbé Pierre’s sole legatee, Emmaus International took part in the creation of the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre, alongside Emmaus France, the Abbé Pierre Foundation, Emmaus Solidarity and members of Abbé Pierre’s family. They all currently sit on the Board of Directors of the Abbé Pierre - Emmaus Centre Association, which was set up to manage the heritage site. Jean Rousseau, Chair of Emmaus International, is also president of the Association.

Read more about the Abbé Pierre - Emmaus Centre