Emmaus International

Thomas Fraisse is the author of a commented biography on Abbé Pierre which was published in 2017. In 'L’abbé Pierre, l’amour…la colère' ['Abbé Pierre, love...anger'] Mr Fraisse, who has a background in philosophy, deciphers Abbé Pierre's thinking. Mr Fraisse first became interested in the founder of Emmaus in his teenage years.

You have written a commented biography of Abbé Pierre. How is that different from a normal biography?
I think that normal biographies are interesting if you're trying to provide coherence to a person's ideas. I didn't want my biography to take a chronological approach, I wanted the work to be worthy of Abbé Pierre. This book is part of the 'Compagnons de route' ['Travel Companions'] collection which is aimed at deciphering the words, positions and ideas of important figures, highlighting the depth and accuracy of their work. This is the first one that is focused on the ideas of Abbé Pierre. 
Why are you interested in Abbé Pierre?
I have always been touched by people who dedicate their lives to the most underprivileged. In my teenage years I became interested in people who transformed their ideas into concrete actions. I read about Gandhi, Sister Emmanuelle, the Dalai Lama, Abbé Pierre, etc. and their words changed my life! Abbé Pierre helped me see that my anger was legitimate and helped me to be humble in my work helping others. I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to Abbé Pierre's tirades on the TV and on the radio. His words and the tone he used always attracted me. Every day I am touched and inspired by Abbé Pierre - I admire how loyal he was to his ideas and how he never compromised his principles. In seeing beyond the falsehoods of our society he showed great courage...
After having written a piece about Saint-Exupéry, as part of the same collection, I naturally started to think about doing a piece on Abbé Pierre.
How did you go about your work on this book?
The book took me three years to complete. I read biographies of Abbé Pierre, read books he himself had written and read the works of authors that inspired him.
Little by little, linking together the different events and ideas, I came to understand how some of Abbé Pierre's ideas were constructed. Each chapter of the book is focused on a given period in time but they are, above all, focused on adding to one of his ideas at a time.
thomas fraisse capeDid writing the book help you to better understand Abbé Pierre? What did you learn?
I discovered how important hope was to Abbé Pierre. 'Hope' and 'expectation' were an important part of his ideas and his whole life, despite these being themes that are rarely looked into in the world of philosophy.
I think that Abbé Pierre's vision is an important lesson for the modern world. Nowadays we tend to think of the world in quite a scientific manner, with statistics in mind. We are 'optimists' or 'pessimists'. When we look at the world we don't think about how much we, as individuals, participate - we find excuses in the world around us to justify our lack of action.
When we talk about hope and expectation it is a more personal involvement in social transformation.
In 1954, despite the situation in society at the time, Abbé Pierre cried out. He refused to be absent on the ground, on the streets. He reminded people of their humanity, delivering them from their stupor with the power and accuracy of his speeches. But behind all of there was always hope.
Abbé Pierre was a man of action, what was his link to the intellectual world?
Abbé Pierre hid his cards well - behind the man of action that we all knew and that he became out of necessity, he remained quite a contemplative person. Spiritual and intellectual sources inspired his action and these actions then inspired his own thinking.
It was his inward reflection as well as his intellectual and spiritual work that helped him to hang in there, to bounce back. Towards the end of his life he enjoyed spending more time on this intellectual work.
Which academics do you think were important for Abbé Pierre's development?
Maurice Zundel was one of his main spiritual inspirations. François Garbit, Henri de Lubac, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Nicolas Berdiaev also inspired Abbé Pierre. Not automatically accepting laws is definitely something that he got from reading Nicolas Berdiaev - Berdiaev saw bureaucracy in society as something which crushes individuals and which can make them forget their humanity.
Abbé Pierre never spoke about his intellectual influence, not out of dishonesty but rather so that he didn't lose his listeners and so that he could mobilise as many people as possible.
Is Abbé Pierre's voice still relevant today? Will he inspire future generations?
Many of Abbé Pierre's speeches were extremely visionary. In the 1990s he said to young people "I understand that you don't want to get involved in this race of 'work more to earn more'". He foresaw a return to a society and values that are much simpler, like the ideas of Pierre Rabhi today.
Abbé Pierre's ideas - like those of other major figures - never get old because he based himself on sources which don't ever go out of fashion. Abbé Pierre was not stuck in his own time, he saw the world and humanity as they should be.


Abbe-Pierre-L-amour-la-colere bdHow to buy the book:

'Abbé Pierre. L’amour…la colère » ['Abbé Pierre. Love...anger'], Thomas Fraisse
Compagnons de route [The Travelling Companions Collection]
192 pages, €14.90
Available only in French