On this day dedicated to women, Emmaus International would like to pay homage to Lucie Coutaz, the woman who worked for over 37 years with Abbé Pierre and who did so much for the Emmaus movement. The speech that she wrote for young people in Faims & Soifs des hommes, no. 6-7, April-May 1970, pages 10-11 is one of the few texts that allows us to discover a little more about who she was.
Faims & Soifs des hommes, no. 6-7, April-May 1970: speech by Lucie Coutaz for young people
“I’m 17, I’m searching…”
“I’m 20, I’m searching like so many others…”
“I’m one of those searching, help me to find…”
“What can I do to help those who suffer?”
“…to make the world fairer and more humane?”
This is how several hundreds of you, of all ages, have beseeched Abbé Pierre, writing moving letters like the heart-breaking one from young Evelyne who, a few hours later, died right here below, crushed under the landslide of the Roc-des Fiz [children’s sanatorium].
Reading your letters, I went into a frenzy trying to answer each one of you, especially those who are just starting their lives, because, having worked with the Father for more than 25 years, you suddenly made me feel fifty years younger, and I saw myself at your age, asking the same questions, feeling the same worries, along with the same impatience to live, to serve a purpose, to be someone, to feel that I had found my place in the human community.
Yes, you are right to have these great desires, to have big dreams for the future. I will not be the one to dampen your enthusiasm until it is extinguished; instead, I will fan the flames. It is the enlightened and intelligent generosity with which you invest yourself in your youth that will allow you, if you have the perseverance, to keep up the same momentum as the years go by, to act with a thoughtful will.
Some of you are impatient, you want to shake things up, some of you talk about stopping your studies "that are useless"; others say: "I feel disgusted with myself".
What delusion and what a mistake! Does this haste to want to become someone, right away, mask a retreat from the arduous effort to be made every day throughout the school year?
Whatever studies you do, they are a chance for you to lay the foundations. The more abundant your resources are, the more able you will be later on to answer the calls of others, if, on the other hand, "these others" feel you are open and welcoming to the problems that make them suffer and that they will confide in you.
Abbé Pierre has often repeated: “Pulling on the stalks won’t make the wheat grow quicker”. So do not cut the wheat into stalks. Give it time to grow and to mature into beautiful ears of wheat.
And I’m told now: “You’re so lucky to do what you do!”
Allow me to smile… This Emmaus adventure is a very lovely story to tell and all the juicy anecdotes that we can share are completely authentic. However, while you are living it, it’s not always so amusing. There were inevitably many tears and sorrows, and that is the view from the inside, and it’s also quite different, given that it involves the mundane nature of simple everyday work.
But there is, and this is the message I would like to give to all our young friends who are searching: there is this inner drive to put oneself at the service of those who suffer, of those who need you. Put yourself at the service of the whole of humanity, but humanity begins close at hand, on our doorstep… It is reminiscent of the poet's exclamation to the sun: “You, without whom things would not be what they are!”
As Abbé Pierre says “We didn´t make Emmaus happen - Emmaus happened to us.” Yes, it’s what happened to us because every time that we were in the presence of someone who was hurting, we wanted to make his suffering ours and, together with him, do what needed to be done to help him through it.
When one looks at Emmaus from the outside, one is struck by the scale of the actions that have been achieved with so little means, by so few people. Brilliant initiatives were not handed to us: it was firstly this inner suffering of trampling on another’s pain without knowing how to overcome it… And then, it was also cooking, laundry, cleaning etc., without forgetting the hard knocks.
All this is certainly not without consolation, we agree on that, but what dominates is the magnitude of all that cannot be done. Emmaus is a great lesson in humility: you must know what you are capable of doing and at the same time recognise your powerlessness in the face of the scale of all that needs to be done…
However, in this everyday struggle, the most wonderful part is this encounter with the Absolute, with the Eternal present in each of our brothers, the Eternal which is Love.
So, I wish you courage and joy… And safe travels!
Lucie Coutaz, Abbé Pierre’s secretary,
…from the tragic hours
of the Resistance
At the service
Of those who suffer
Speech by Lucie Coutaz for young people
Faims & Soifs des hommes no. 6-7, pages 10-11
About Lucie Coutaz
Abbé Pierre met Lucie Coutaz through the Resistance networks in March 1943, a woman who would be considered a “Resistance fighter of the first hour” by Colonel Descour in Lyon on 10 July 1945, when he awarded her the Croix de Guerre [War Cross] medal with a bronze star.
When Abbé Pierre visited her in Grenoble in April 1945, he asked her to work by his side: Lucie Coutaz accepted and remained Abbé Pierre’s invaluable and faithful assistant right up until her death in 1982. She shared the burdens of his various official functions and supported him unceasingly even in the most difficult times.
Abbé Pierre said of her that she combined the “temperament of a leader” with the heroism of accepting to “remain in the shadow of another1”. Lucie Coutaz, who worked tirelessly by his side, only signed two books and has left very few writings about her life, her motivation and her role at the heart of the movement.
However, the speech that she wrote for young people in Faims & Soifs des hommes, no. 6-7, April-May 1970, pages 10-11 is one of the few texts that allows us to discover a little more about who she was.
1Brigitte MARY, for Emmaus International, 8 November 2018 "Lucie Coutaz, her support for Abbé Pierre in his work and in particular Emmaus, her role as a woman in Emmaus" (french only).