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Appeal from San Francisco - 11 May 1955

Following the appeal of 1st February 1954 and the resonance it had internationally, Abbé Pierre was asked to speak at conferences in many places around the world. In 1955, Abbé Pierre travelled to North America. He gave several lectures in Canada and the United States and met with public figures, individuals and associations influenced by his work or which shared the same goals. On 11 May 1955, whilst giving a speech in San Francisco, Abbé Pierre made a passionate appeal to humanity for voluntary action to fight against the poverty and suffering of mankind.


« Grand texte de San Francisco », revised written notes, 11 May 1955

Ten years after the end of the most terrible war in known history,
across all the nations on Earth,
all people are calling for help,
some because their suffering is too great,
others because they are too afraid.

Presently, every day,
all over the Earth,
which is overflowing with food and wealth,
three out of four children
do not have enough to eat to grow as they should,
and one out of two families does not have a real home.

And at the same time
everywhere where there are more fortunate people
not a single human being, be they the strongest or most
can seriously believe, for themselves or for those that they love,
that they are safe from the terrifying threat of nuclear wrath
and that other horrifying threat,
the disintegration of their own spirit.

Are our machines not perfect enough,
is our money not so powerful?
Or is it our good intentions that are lacking?
There are perhaps more good intentions at this time than at any other.
And surely no other time had such marvellous machines
or so much money.

Could it then be the imperfections of our charters and political institutions
that are our weakness?
Ten years after we signed the momentous document
that would found the United Nations?
Of course, no pact is perfect
and all must be perfected over time;
but it has never been the imperfections of a contract
that have brought us to war or to peace, to joy or to horror.

What we are lacking,
what is causing more suffering than the worst death,
is something small – miniscule – but key:
it is the human presence of which we are no longer capable,
the presence and the sharing
that are created by love.

What good are the good deeds or those who would do them
without this presence, and without sharing
the pain of those who are suffering?
They can only create hate, envy and anarchy.

What good is voting to offer up money,
even in significant amounts,
if the only people to give it out,
are administrators, politicians and technicians?
They may be the best people in the world,
but if they aren’t preceded
by boys and girls
who have come to share,
with empty hands,
the communion of their hearts,
willing to share, without profiting from it,
for now or for always
the tears of those who cry
and the pain of whoever is suffering.

It seems to be illogical.

Madness, even scandalous for many minds,
the notion of a love so excessive
that, to save us, it sought to relate to us,
that, to redeem us, it believed
it needed to be incarnated.

Excessive, yes,
but how, when faced with the enormous excess
which has ruptured human communion through indifference,
through selfishness and individual ambition,
can we possibly think
that without this excess of love
we can restore balance to the universe?

Do we believe that for crime, the remedy is reason?
And for indifference, good deeds?

Not surrendering some of our belongings,
but only committing ourselves,
in large enough numbers
and being prepared to sacrifice ourselves if we must,
can be considered a reasonable response.

Without this mad, excessive love that some can give,
there are, in immense numbers,
all the “reasonable” people, who are left without reason,
and all the powerful without power.

The time has come
to launch an appeal
to the youth of the world,
for a vast crusade
which will probably take more than one martyr,
and which will need, surely and soon,
a multitude of ordinary fighters,
who will offer their time and work for free.

A crusade, not against any enemy,
or against any other people,
against the hunger of the unfed,
the nakedness of the unhoused,
the ignorance of the uneducated,
the distress of the unemployed,
the despair of all those abandoned, with nobody to care for them,
wherever they are in the world.

What good were so many acts of heroism, asking nothing in
to defend and rescue freedom, 10 years ago,
the brutal struggle having come to an end,
we do not know how to ask of the same youth
and those who are even younger,
the same acts of heroism?
To ask them, with courage and kindness,
to serve,
with their presence and their hands,
the greatest justice?

Only if we know how to do this
will the sacrifices we make in terms of money, time or politics
which are today hopelessly squandered,
and not assimilated,
stop being
either completely inconsequential or with devastating

In the name of the very poorest of the poor of my own country,
the rag-pickers, shelter-givers and home-builders of emmaus,
the hopeless who now give hope to others,
a long way from being perfect
but who have rediscovered what it is to love,
who have chosen me to represent them,
more legitimately than has ever been elected
the most legitimate representative of any assembly
in the world,
voice of the immeasurable multitudes of the voiceless,
in this place,
so far
from the places where the fate of humankind is played out,
here in San Francisco,
on one side of the chasm
at the brink of which can be found
the people’s greatest reserves
of energy, of power and the desire to serve,
the greatest in history, perhaps,
the place where, 10 years ago,
the UN charter was ratified:
the most worthy global attempt
to define the rights of human beings
without considering their colour, their wealth,
the form of their faith,
their education or their conditions of birth.

With all the solemnity
of which a simple man with empty hands
but who has offered up his soul completely
is capable,

I am appealing today,
11 May 1955,
to all people, men and women, individuals of this Earth,
to their consciences,
and those of their nations,
which make it possible for citizens and States to work together,
the most desperate appeal,
to love and to fight,
not against any person or people,
but against all the ways in which people have been desecrated.

The time has come
to raise a worldwide volunteer force
great enough to save the world from despair and horror,
armed with its mad love,
weary of killing,
and hungry, with all its strength,
to build, to feed, to teach, to take care of and to care for.
Thus we will be able to start
to hope
for true peace,
closer and more certain than ever before.

With all the strength that I have left in life,
with all of my soul.
to the eternal god that i adore,
to the human masses that i cherish,
at the end of a long road and many struggles,
i offer my life,
whatever its value,
to this cause.

As this is all I have, I give it

May this offering
be received by my human brothers and sisters,

And may their response show beyond doubt
that love
is Everything.

Abbé Pierre
San Francisco
11 May 1955

Appeal from San Francisco - 11 May 1955