During a Christmas special edition of the review Faim & Soif, Abbé Pierre reminds us in strong terms, one year after his resounding appeal in Winter 1954, of the importance of fighting against poverty and helping the most vulnerable, with special emphasis on not losing the energy of our initial ‘uprising’. He also talks about consolidating the Emmaus movement and the emerging links with organisations in other countries, such as Canada, Argentina, Peru, Japan, Denmark, India and a number of countries in Africa, at a time when the struggles led by the Emmaus movement started to resound internationally.
Abbé Pierre’s message, Christmas 1955 - Faim & Soif n.10
The cry of joy: “A child is born!”, has now become, in so many places around the world - in so many places that should be homes for cradles, and which are nothing more than places where animals would not be kept - in the wretched inertia of exhausted parents, an announcement of increasing anguish, the hastening of a fall into despair, towards illness, madness and death.
Is it not on the birth of a baby being considered either a blessing or a curse that civilisations deserve to be judged?
There was no room for Jesus in the houses of people, nor in the splendour of the residences of the nobles who “need peace and quiet”, nor in the inns “which do not want children”, nor in houses for rent, where we only want "people offering full guarantees".
Inextricable situations, unless the public authorities are faithful to their task: to care for the weakest, the smallest, those suffering the most; for it is they who need the public authorities, to be served and saved from being crushed. The strong have no care for them (unless they have taken them under tutelage). For the strong, the less the state is involved, the more their interests are safeguarded.
If tonight the Virgin Mary, tired of her long journey, with no relations or wealth, arrived in any city around the world, tell me, would she find a place to sleep out of the cold? Where would baby Jesus rest for the first hours of his life among us? Or perhaps after being on the maternity ward and then in the mother and baby home, where after that time had passed should Our Lady, with her husband, the penniless carpenter, and her baby, go to hide the desolation of her "lowly" family?
Between all the cities in the world there are hundreds of thousands of young children who suffer too much because we, the fortunate or the not too unfortunate, are more dumb than the animals in that stable that at least with their close breath made the stable warm. We sleep indifferently, while hovels full to the brim of crying toddlers and exhausted mums and dads see their courage and hope collapse, along with their health, due to this excessively long and harsh ordeal.
True, we sketch out ideas, we have moments of motivation.
During the winter of 1953-1954 in France, there was the uprising that we all know. It allowed achievements to be made, the start of reforms that are bearing fruit, very slow in ripening, still too few certainly and imperfect, but which exist, and are growing and multiplying.
The following winter, it was the L’Humanité newspaper which, in many articles, at times very unfair and sterile, threw our collective shame in our faces of being incapable of housing the children of France.
Then this winter of 1955-1956, the publications L'Aurore, then France-Soir, and a few others take turns to take the lead and "open the season".
May everyone remain as zealous after the elections, and may the homeless not become "of little interest" again once the ballot boxes have been emptied!
For injustice is worse and uglier, and it is even more intolerable, if after the interest of one day it is cast into oblivion, and it becomes clear that it was only of interest as a fleeting useful "cause", and not as a tenacious necessity to love through our acts.
Woe to us, to those with too little courage, if, having witnessed this, we happen to forget again; if we ignore the fact that, in the face of so much senseless pain, nothing is done as long as something remains to be done.
When it comes to injustice, it is not the quantity that makes us human; it is the reality of injustice itself.
It is enough to make this universe filthy if our hearts remain unmoved when one single innocent person is brutalised or has his human rights violated before our eyes.
It continues to breathe only through the few fierce fools who stubbornly refuse to be happy while others are not.
And it all boils down to this.
This improvised review “Faim et Soif”, born of a whim, has progressed step by step.
Now firmly established and valued by anyone who lives with the impatience of other people's grief at heart, it can look forward to expanding its reach and pestering more!
In this issue at the end of 1955, we wanted to begin an inventory, as it were, of the most important public and private, national and global organisations, guided by these great concerns and universal duties: shelter, bread, employment, school, care, etc.
This remains very incomplete. We will have to come back to this, and keep the public informed of these activities, about which they are told so little, as it is believed that they are only interested in entertainment, when there is so much evidence of people’s desire to hear about serious things, as seen by the rapid development of "Faim et Soif", for example.
In this year, 1956, which is beginning, we will focus all our efforts on deepening our work: in light of the experience we have gained, now that we have solidly established structures for the whole Emmaus Association and its subsidiaries, we will look into adapting our statutes, then we will set up the Executive School for "Companionship", a training meeting for groups of "Friends of Emmaus" and for the members of the various "Fraternities".
At the same time, according to the key motion adopted by the 2nd Congress of the Union Nationale d'Aide aux Sans-Logis [National Union of Help for the Homeless], we will take action to set up full teams in every province in France, who will play the much needed role at local level of leavening achievements, not only for housing issues, but also for industrial decentralisation, and, as they say today, for "development of the territory".
Finally, thanks to the positive relationships that have been established with organisations such as "Economy and Humanism" and men such as Josué de Castro, and others who have the most thorough knowledge of these problems and the current state of efforts being made around the world, with our "Institute for Research and Action on World Poverty" (I. R.A.M.M.), we will do our utmost to respond to the requests for cooperation that are constantly arriving at our office in Rue des Bourdonnais from so many places, such as Canada, Argentina, Peru, Japan, Denmark, India and various African countries.
What else is Emmaus, and a few similar organisations, but the humble and providential discovery of the secret of how the entire universe works, of this secret, lost and found incessantly, the secret of the Law of Laws, according to which nothing human is worth anything without the free unity that is established only by serving first those who suffer most?
The service of the strong ceases to be fair when it does not lead to serving the weak.
And Emmaus is also the secret of knowing that serving those suffering the most is not possible in public life without the presence of two vocations:
The vocation of realists ready to devote themselves, chivalrous, wholeheartedly to this service, throwing the challenge of their achievements at the heart of society;
And the vocation of some “mystical beings”, excessive love extremists (if it is possible to love too much!) who are ready not only to serve first those who suffer most, but also to identify with their situation.
They add stupor to the challenge and force anyone who is not voluntarily walled up in his monstrous selfishness, to stop and face himself, and the new "converts", that is to say those turned upside down, placed back on their feet, in other words put back in order, at last are forced to become a true Son of Man, a true brother of He who, while He was the Eternal Word, the Son of the Eternal One, wanted no other name than the "Son of Man" - man, whose disorder He came to redeem paying for it with his life.
May Emmaus - yesterday, and beyond, the land of disillusionment and encounters - over these days of Christmas be the symbol of meetings of all those who, regardless of their creed, wish to join in this heartfelt conviction that "it is not worth being born if not to love", to love first and foremost those for whom if we do not know how to love them in deeds, life will seem to have been, in this world of beasts, nothing but a horrible curse.
Ah! May our tireless efforts bring us closer to the day when, for all of us, Christmas will finally be Christmas.
Abbé Pierre’s message
Faim & Soif n.10
Christmas Special 1955 (p. 11-12)