Emmaus International

Frédérique Weixler, the founder of the Emmaus Friends Committee in Rambervilliers, has been committed to the Movement since 1984 and was initially drawn in by the message of the Universal Manifesto.  Frédérique was the treasurer of Emmaus International in 2007, at the time of Abbé Pierre’s death.

How, and for how long, have you been involved in the Emmaus movement?

In 1984, I was 26. Some friends and I wanted to get involved with a movement and be useful, both on a local level in the small town of Rambervillers, which was struggling with major economic problems, and on a national and international level.
Discovering the Manifesto was a revelation for me – especially the part that mentions "men who had become aware of their privileged situation and social responsibilities in the face of injustice and men who no longer had any reason to live crossed paths and decided to combine forces and take action together to help each other and come to the aid of those who were suffering.”

In the spirit of the Manifesto, we therefore decided to create an Emmaus Friends Committee in Rambervilliers. We got in contact with an association that had tried and failed to set up an Emmaus group in another part of the Vosges region, and this helped us to launch our association in 1985.
We started out as nothing more than a handful of volunteers, because it didn't seem possible to bring a community to life in Rambervillers. We were the ones who did collections in the evening after work. Gradually, our work became more structured, with assisted contracts, and then a job integration workshop – eventually we covered the entire Vosges region and were present in several places. Thanks to the Movement's assistance, we were able to buy some former supermarket premises in 1990.

Very soon, I decided I wanted to join the Board of the Friends of Emmaus, then of Emmaus France and of Emmaus International. When I became Committee Chair in 1989, my first decision, which I am still proud of, was to join Emmaus International. Because I think that fighting the causes of poverty implies, by definition, having a broader vision and accepting that internationalism lies at the heart of the Movement's work, with all of its strengths and weaknesses.

As an elected member, you met Abbé Pierre. How did he inspire you?

Frdrique Weixler ABPWhen I first met Abbé Pierre, he was a very respectable elderly gentleman. It was when I got to know him better by travelling with him and as an elected representative that I realised just how fortunate I was to be so close to him, especially during the final years of his life.
I was very struck by his total commitment, and his freedom of thought, which went hand-in-hand with immense respect for every individual. I have a precise memory of conversations, of his ability to call things into question, his healthy anger, his humour... In hindsight, his political commitment in the broad sense and his humanism were, I think, central to his work.
I was also impressed, in his final years, by his willingness to make way for us, who only had mandates to provide support.

Why did Abbé Pierre choose to leave his entire legacy to Emmaus International?

The entire history of Abbé Pierre and of the Movement is international. From 1956, Abbé Pierre set off to spread his ideas around the world and groups were established in every continent. In 1963, when he was visiting Latin America, his ship sank and he was believed dead. It was then that he realised that if he died, his initiative could disappear with him, and so he decided to call all of the Emmaus groups together for World Assembly. In 1969, the Universal Manifesto of the Emmaus movement was adopted by 70 groups in 20 countries at the World Assembly in Bern, Switzerland. An International Secretariat was established to lend cohesion to the Emmaus movement. In 1971, the statutes of the Emmaus International association were adopted "to carry on with the action started in 1949". Until the end of his life, Abbé Pierre lived in Alfortville in Emmaus International premises, and the last meetings he insisted on attending were those of Emmaus International.
Though he had a good understanding of the various options that were possible, his will was very clear and designated Emmaus International as his “universal legatee". This is the legal term that provides the most rights and the most responsibilities. The word "universal" does indeed mean that the bequest includes all of his spiritual and material possessions, as well as his memory.

What do you see as the main issues surrounding the heritage of Abbé Pierre for Emmaus International in the years to come?

As universal legatee, Emmaus International is the heir and the living memory of Abbé Pierre's actions. Its responsibility is to live up to this bequest and to take on this mission collectively. This doesn't mean sanctifying him, but rather that we must keep alive the provocative, powerful and fraternal spirit of Abbé Pierre. Fortunately, as Abbé Pierre wrote, "You do not have to wait to be perfect to start something good."