From 4 - 6 October 1984, Emmaus International organised its 5th General Assembly in Namur, Belgium, based on the theme ‘Emmaus today’ the presence of young people in the movement and ‘the new poor’ in the so-called ‘developed’ countries. In his opening speech, Abbé Pierre discusses the changes in society and the necessary ways the movement must adapt. In this extract, he speaks more specifically about the development of ‘free time’ and the best way to use it.
Extract from Abbé Pierre's opening speech about 'free time'
Finally, we are generations condemned to free time, and this will be either a wonderful or an awful possibility. And there everything is resting with us. The free time, either it will become human degradation, loitering from pub to pub, alcohol, drug, in boredom and that will be degradation ; or else free time can be a resurrection, maybe to live again, because we had become slaves ; at the time that was called growth, economic miracle, the 30 or 40 years of paradise when one had every year more, more and more, was a time of slavery. The lady who had to travel an hour to go to work, to type bills all day, and another hour to come home at night, could not see her children growing. We did not have any time to listen to birds, to look at flowers, we did not live, we came home so exhausted that arriving home we just put on T.V. to avoid thinking at all ; and the young people, I heard that so often – young boys and girls would say : 'there is nobody to listen to us, neither dad nor mum, they are down and out, they have no time. And everybody is racing to possess, possess, at the age when the young one needs to contradict, to be opposed, to argue with older people, there is nobody to listen to us. Sure this is one explanation of the use of drug, among others.
Conscious of the fact that we are condemned to 'free time', let us see how it will be either a cause of destruction, or it may become a re-creator in calling forth a renewal of handicrafts, which will not bring wealth to those who will tackle them, but will bring them the joy to work, to create, maybe to barter with others. It will be this or else degradation. We must be able beside the Emmaus Communities with all the young people who come there, wherever it is possible, to create enterprises that may become important like "Terre", near Liège, it won't always be possible to become so prosperous, but we must multiply possibilities of handicrafts calling a professional, paying him a day per week, to teach his work, making possible at the same time a renewal of popular art. If there is handicraft, there will be popular art.
At the same time, it won't any longer be fooling the people to talk about spirituality, because the re-discovery of the values of Adoration is nearly impossible except by miracles, for the man or the woman who has run on and on, and on, all day long. In that inhuman life, it is not possible. On the contrary, if we reach again a livable state of life, we will be less wealthy but may be at last we'll live ! We'll live again !
Extract from Abbé Pierre's opening speech
5th General Assembly in Namur
4-6 October 1984