Emmaus International

Birgitta Goranson is a volunteer for the Swallows association and a member of Emmaus Sweden. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Manifesto, she revisited this founding text and common foundation of the Emmaus Movement as a source of inspiration since the 1970s.

“For me, and for most of my colleagues at home, the Universal Manifesto has been a very powerful inspiration, not so much as a text, but as a platform for actions and for solidarity. As Scandinavians, we live in a cultural and political environment that is decidedly secular and oriented towards practicalities. We are not generally very philosophical, and our languages are very down to earth.

Honestly, for quite some time the Manifesto as a text was rather difficult to decipher for us who were not native French speakers. For more than 20 years we had to do with an obviously word by word translation into English that didn’t make much sense, although – thankfully! - the keywords stood out. We badly needed an interpretation! And that we got through reports about the work carried out in the groups, and about the way people related to each other with respect and dignity, regardless of different backgrounds.

So, the main inspiration, to me, to us in Scandinavia, from the 70s onwards, was really the Manifesto as expressed in local actions, and in the way those actions also related to international solidarity. This very practical inspiration, and its vision of a possible world order structured around peace, solidarity, sharing and respect, was later even more clearly described in texts added to the Manifesto by the Emmaus World Assemblies. Those texts have proven to be a very solid reference of experiences that continue to inspire.

My own first practical contact with an Emmaus community and reality was in Lima, Peru, in 1971. The work carried out in the struggling suburb of Chorrillos showed both dedication, creativity and unbending hope for a better future. It was there and with them that the Manifesto came to life, and came to change my own life. The pull of Emmaus was strong – I had to actively join; to commit myself. Through the Swedish Emmaus group called Swallows I was granted that privilege, first during a study tour to Bangladesh and India in 1975, then from 1977 as a volunteer with the group Swallows in India.

I am a volunteer and activist for my Swedish Swallows group ever since; the commitment is still strong.

Looking back over these 50 years having the Universal Manifesto as our platform, and trying to pinpoint the commitments of Emmaus for the future… Where can we find the inspiration today? Where do I find it?

I’d say: in any Emmaus group, or in any struggling suburb, by any border, any refugee camp, whether in Europe or somewhere in the global South.

In Lima, the Peruvians and Scandinavians working together taught me, with their quiet and persistent work and way of life, to always ask the simple questions: Who will benefit? Who will suffer? Whom do you stand by? Today as 50 years ago the Universal Manifesto provokes us in any struggle to stand by those who suffer most, never being afraid to speak out. To defend democracy, human rights and diversity, always and everywhere.”.


Photo : ©Patrick Piro