Emmaus International

José Aravena is the founder and Chair of the Emmaus group Las Urracas in Chile. Having been a member of the provisional committee preparing the first General Assembly in 1969, he spoke at the plenary session on 24 May 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Manifesto at the Federal Swiss Parliament in Bern. He recounted what had motivated him, at the time, to work on this project to create Emmaus International and to participate in drafting its founding text.

"After being shipwrecked in the Rio de la Plata, our founder, Abbé Pierre, shared his concerns with us about what could have happened if he had drowned in the shipwreck given he was the only one who had all the contact details and who knew the different groups around the world. This was in 1963.
He discussed with us the need to create a link at an international level. For this, he suggested that we visit Lima to build a relationship with the Emmaus groups that existed there.

In order to create a type of organisation, or secretariat, and to draft or propose a "Manifesto", containing the central guidelines of Emmaus, outlining common elements that were already present in all the groups, Abbé Pierre created a first draft based on his experience at the first Emmaus community. He outlined the seven basic points and these were then discussed in the Emmaus groups.
Then in 1967 the first provisional committee was set up with representatives chosen by Abbé Pierre, from different regions around the world, to proceed with the drafting of the first Manifesto and subsequently to organise the first meeting of the Emmaus groups, which became the First World Assembly in Bern in May 1969.

Reflections on the Manifesto

During the period after the shipwreck in the Rio del Plata, we were keen to study more in depth the experience and adventures of the Emmaus companions in France and to find out more about the wisdom and thoughts of Abbé Pierre, which he expressed at various conferences and in speeches made at different events to which he was invited. We were drawn by the idea of work, community and service which formed the central core of the practice and message at the origins of the Emmaus communities. Abbé Pierre's social and political thoughts expressed in his writings and at conferences also appealed to us greatly.

The preliminaries to freedom

After the end of the Second World War, Abbé Pierre witnessed that the victorious powers were boasting about having overthrown fascism and how freedom had triumphed. Yet at the time Abbé Pierre asked himself and the public about what "freedom" really meant for poor countries suffering from hunger and diseases and what freedom could mean for the thousands of poor people in rich countries who still lacked a decent life, despite being the ones who had made the greatest sacrifices to win the second world war.

Abbé Pierre states that for human beings to be truly free they need society to guarantee them proper access to:

  • Adequate food with sufficient nutrients for their development.
  • Full well-being comprising physical, mental and social healthcare, which is universal and free. Not solely the absence of disease.
  • Decent housing with communal spaces, which facilitates cohabitation and security.
  • Decent, well-paid work and with social security which guarantees a comfortable life.
  • Access to knowledge which includes free, public education of excellence and access to a broad range of accurate information which enables critical awareness.

In summary, we were drawn by what Abbé Pierre called the: "war on poverty, on its causes and on those responsible", working for justice and sharing my individual and collective struggles, until we destroy the causes of poverty.

In prophetic terms that means:

  • Denouncing the capitalist system and imperialism from the North as the great enemy of humanity, the environment and mother earth.
  • Declaring that another world and another life is possible as long as poor people, poor people from all communities and indigenous communities, get organised to build a world based on fraternity, free from exploitation.
  • Proposing building a society based on the common goods of society according to well-being, respect and harmony with Mother Nature.

To conclude, Las Urracas was present in this founding act of Emmaus International, and we have the following people in our thoughts: a special thought for our colleague Oscar Pregnan, who participated as part of the Las Urracas delegation; Abbé Pierre as an ingenious and inspirational force, Marcel Farine, a great organiser of this tremendous action, José Balista, vice-chair, an intellectual and studious man at Emmaus, and so many comrades throughout the world who have contributed to ensure that Emmaus continues to strive to "serve first those who suffer most" and to play its part in creating a fair world based on solidarity.

20190524 Palais federal Berne

Photo : ©Patrick Piro