The Emmaus movement began in France in 1949 when the first communities were set up. In the middle of a housing crisis, the companions built accommodation to re-house numerous families. They gradually went from being companion builders to becoming ‘Emmaus ragpickers’, in order to find the means to carry out their solidarity actions through recycling work. When the authorities failed to take action during a particularly harsh winter, Abbé Pierre made an appeal on 1 February 1954, which had a substantial impact in France and beyond.
From 1954 onwards, Abbé Pierre travelled the world, became involved in the global fight against poverty and told others of his experiences with Emmaus. Through his travels, he brought together a large number of local initiatives that were already helping the most excluded. As they shared Emmaus’ solidarity values and practices, these organisations joined the movement, to Abbé Pierre’s great satisfaction.
When he almost died in 1963 in a shipwreck in Uruguay on the Rio de la Plata, Abbé Pierre realised the urgent need to structure the movement. The Emmaus organisations from all over the world met for the first time in 1969 in Bern (Switzerland), adopted the Universal Manifesto and decided to create an international movement, which took shape in 1971 at the General Assembly in Montreal.
The successive world assemblies gradually forged the movement’s identity and, from the end of the 1980s onwards, led to the emergence of common actions and challenges.