Emmaus International

The reappropriation of the Universal Manifesto, founding text of the movement, is at the heart of the commemoration of its launch by Abbé Pierre fifty years ago in the Swiss capital. "Our Swiss friends have awoken us, it's as if we were sleeping", admits Patrick Atohoun, Chair of Emmaus International.

"For 2019, we had in our minds the anniversary of Emmaus's creation in 1949, but not the launch of the Universal Manifesto in Bern in 1969." Rather than deploring this sleepiness, there is a sense of catharsis in his words. "We no longer have our charismatic leader, Abbé Pierre, the person who ensured the movement's unity. Today, it is up to us to come together to unify it as he did. And for that, what could be more significant than turning to the Manifesto, the fundamental text of the movement, displayed in all Emmaus communities around the world. It contains this set of core values that we have in common, which shapes our identity and differentiates us from other actors, particularly NGOs," Patrick Atohoun states. Emmaus International, Abbé Pierre´s sole legatee. "We are now the sole legatee of the Manifesto."

All the movement's companions, friends and leaders have been invited, on this anniversary of 24 May 2019, to reread the text adopted 50 years earlier, to revisit its key messages. Solidarity, serving those who suffer most, autonomy based on dignified work that liberates human beings, recognition of the rights of the excluded, the creation of Emmaus groups "as places of peace".

Emmanuelle Larcher, who has been working for the movement's international secretariat for more than thirty years and has been assigned for three years to the mission of preserving the movement's memory, also confesses that she "has only now stuck her nose in the archives. And I confirm that the Manifesto has retained its full relevance to the challenges of today's world, even if the context has changed."

At its inception, the movement was made up of "excluded" communities - homeless people, as we know them today, says Patrick Atohoun. "In 2019, the Manifesto invites us to work with the most vulnerable people, in all their diverse situations, whether unemployed, migrants, rape victims, etc., and to work with them." In a world dominated by liberal economies, we also need to identify activities that can help them cope. There are economic problems: "I have just returned from Bangladesh, where the Emmaus groups have real difficulties simply existing due to taxation on their activities - they are associations, and from countries in the South!"

The Manifesto called for a fight against the causes of poverty. "Today, this mission not only consists in taking action, but also in denouncing these situations and assigning responsibilities," he says, recalling that since its World Assembly in 2016 in Jesolo (Italy), the movement has been acting as a political actor and a vehicle for raising questions. "To be a catalyst for social change. Fifty years after Bern 1969, if the problems at that time are still relevant, it is because the neoliberal system is, more than ever, a producer of poverty. »

Regaining unity and a sense of collective commitment: "I expect the Berne meeting to revive the DNA of the movement! ", summarises Patrick Atohoun. He adds his desire to see the transfer of the legacy of its historical actors. Emmanuelle Larcher went to Uruguay, Chile, the Netherlands, Belgium, and so on, to find them. "I called around, talked to people we hadn't heard from in years. And even those who have taken another path demonstrate a strong sense of attachment to Emmaus and Abbé Pierre. I realise how much our movement is the repository of considerable force, of which it may not be aware."

Patrick Piro