To understand the Emmaus movement better, it’s important to know two stories: how it started and how it developed. The first takes place in France, the birthplace of the first communities. The second is international and involves travelling the world in the footsteps of Abbé Pierre.
Emmaus’ story began in France at the end of the 1940s. While the country was trying to grapple with the fallout from the war and homeless people in their thousands, Abbé Pierre bought a house in Neuilly-Plaisance and took a stand against poor housing. Working with dozens of men and women, they created the first Emmaus community together. Faced by the government’s failure to act, Abbé Pierre launched a stirring radio appeal on 1 February 1954 in which he called on his fellow citizens to help.
The effect of this appeal, not only in France but worldwide, was the unexpected trigger of the development of the Emmaus movement. Between 1955 and 1963, Abbé Pierre was invited to visit countries around the globe to talk about his initiative and his work to combat extreme poverty. As Emmaus communities multiplied in France, he travelled the world and encouraged the formation of communities elsewhere in Europe, in the Americas and in Asia. Through his travels, Abbé Pierre 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 Emmaus movement, to Abbé Pierre’s great satisfaction.
From the outset, his knowledge of the world, of international issues, particularly in developing countries, and of the problems linked to the non-respect of each individual’s fundamental rights, regardless of where they live, their country or their continent, were at the heart of Abbé Pierre’s reflections and actions, and therefore formed the core of the Emmaus movement.
Find out how Emmaus took shape on the following pages: