Speaking of Our Origins: Interview with Pepe Aravena, from Chile, on the Emmaus International movement
On 24th May 1969, the first World Assembly of Emmaus groups took place at the Federal Parliament in Bern, Switzerland. This was a founding event for Emmaus International, with the adoption of the Universal Manifesto. Exactly 50 years later, over 180 representatives of Emmaus International from 4 continents met at the same location, including the “veterans” of Emmaus International who have been part of the movement since the very first World Assembly. In our series “Speaking of Our Origins”, we will hear from key figures and custodians of the memory of our movement who, based on their own experiences, tell us about the early days and the development of Emmaus International.
José Aravena, known as Pepe, is the founder and president of Emmaus Las Urracas in Chile. He was a member of the interim committee which prepared the founding General Assembly in 1969.
When Abbé Pierre was shipwrecked in Rio de la Plata in 1963 he narrowly escaped death. Abbé Pierre then realised the importance of organising a structure for the Emmaus groups around the world, as he was the only person who knew and had written down their contact details. “If he had lost his thick notebook where he wrote everything down, there would have been no trace of the movement”, Pepe explains.
“It was at this time that he asked us to go and share in the daily experiences of a small group based in Lima. There were many Emmaus groups scattered about and it was important to help with coordination. This is how we found ourselves participating in Abbé Pierre’s initial reflections on the creation of a movement at an international level. By a stroke of fate – a shipwreck – an awareness of our destiny was born in Latin and South America, which we’ve tried to embody since the very beginning.”
In this interview, he shares the events that led to Abbé Pierre’s proposal to set up an international structure to coordinate the Emmaus groups spread around the world. He recalls the proceedings which led to the adoption of the Universal Manifesto in 1969, a founding text of Emmaus International, and the importance of internationalism in building and reinforcing individual and shared struggles.