Abbé Pierre involved in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in United Nations
As Vice-Chair of the executive committee of the World Federalist Movement, Abbé Pierre took part in the second session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There he met members of the drafting committee, Eleanor Roosevelt and Alexander E. Bogomolov, USSR ambassador.
(Photo: René Cassin, the French member of the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with Abbé Pierre. Geneva, Switzerland, 1947)
“My friends, your help is needed.”
France was hit by a bitterly cold winter at the beginning of 1954, and many families were struck by a lack of housing.
Abbé Pierre made an appeal on Radio Luxembourg: “A woman froze to death at three o’ clock in the morning last night, on the pavement on Boulevard Sébastopol, clutching the document with which, the day before yesterday, she was evicted… Every night, there are more than 2000 of them huddled up in the freezing weather, without shelter, without bread, some of them practically naked…” “Every one of us can help the ‘homeless’”.
The whole of France answered his appeal, and donations flooded in: it was dubbed ‘the insurrection of goodness’.
(Abbé Pierre speaking on Radio Luxembourg a few days after the appeal. Neuilly-Plaisance, 1954.)
Abbé Pierre met disciples of Gandhi
When he first travelled to India, Abbé Pierre was invited to speak at the national congress of Catholic universities in Bombay.
Whilst he was there he met the country’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He accompanied Vinoba Bhave on a three-day walk to where Vinoba was mobilising villagers to share land ownership.
Abbé Pierre was dubbed “a French Vinoba” by the Delhi Statesman in its edition of 15 January 1959.
(Newspaper extract from the Statesman, Delhi, India, 15 January 1959)
Abbé Pierre’s boat shipwrecked
Whilst on a tour of the Emmaus communities in Latin America, Abbé Pierre, who was firstly presumed drowned, did in fact survive when his boat sank.
“This near-death experience was, without a doubt, just as important a moment in my personal life as joining the capuchin order and begging in the streets of Paris at night. But it was also a major turning point for the Emmaus movement’s history, and future.”
(Newspaper extract from El Diario, Montevideo, Uruguay, 12 July 1963)
Appeal to 38,000 French mayors to help refugees in East Bengal, India
The civil war in East Pakistan led to the displacement of 10 million refugees who fled to India.
Abbé Pierre was one of the three French representatives at a conference in India led by Indira Gandhi to attempt to tackle the crisis.
On his return, he appealed to France’s mayors to set up twinning agreements to support the Bengali refugee camps.
(Sleeve of the record to support Bengali refugees, 1971)
Coup in Chile – two Emmaus leaders arrested by the military
In the days following the military coup by General Pinochet in Chile, two community leaders from Las Urracas Emaús in Temuco, Carlos Melillán and Oscar Pregnán, were arrested and tortured.
Emmaus International mobilised its members in many different countries to save their lives.
Abbé Pierre went to Chile to meet the military authorities and managed to secure the two community leaders’ release in exchange for their lifelong exile.
(Newspaper extract from El Diario Austral, Temuco, Chile, 18 October 1973)
Albert Tévoédjrè triggers a new beginning for Emmaus in Africa
Albert Tévoédjrè took on significant responsibilities in Benin and then at African and international organisations, the International Labour Office in particular.
He published a book, La Pauvreté, richesse des peuples (Poverty, wealth and peoples) in 1977.
He was invited to speak at Emmaus International’s general assembly in 1984.
This marked the start of a lasting and rewarding friendship with Abbé Pierre and Emmaus International. He re-established the movement in Africa when he set up Emmaus in Benin in 1988.
(Albert Tévoédjrè, 1989. Photo credits: Brigitte Mary)
Campaign for democratic reform in Benin
Friends and fellow members of Emmaus in Benin, Albert Tévoédjrè and the Archbishop of Cotonou, Isidore De Souza were heavily involved in the country’s return to democracy after almost 17 years of dictatorship.
They called on Emmaus International to offer practical support for civil society activists helping society’s poorest members.
Abbé Pierre endorsed the campaign launched by Emmaus International and several other NGOs ‘for democratic reform in Benin’.
(Abbé Pierre in Benin for the campaign to support democratic reform. November 1990)
Fighting for the right to housing – France
Abbé Pierre championed the cause of a group of migrant families who had been evicted and were living in camp at la Réunion square in Paris.
He supported the action of Droit au logement (Right to housing), an organisation which requisitioned empty buildings to accommodate homeless people.
Right up until his death, Abbé Pierre supported their action.
(Newspaper extract from Le Parisien, Paris, France, 11 June 1990)
Civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina – Abbé Pierre speaks out and Emmaus takes action
Emmaus organised convoys to send supplies and equipment to refugees and victims from 1992 until after the war, which ended in 1995.
In response to the mounting violence, Abbé Pierre made an angry appeal on 18 July 1995.
With the backing of Emmaus International and Emmaus France, he sent an open letter to the president of France to call for Serbian military sites to be bombed and to condemn the United Nation’s capacity to fulfil its peacekeeping commitments.
(Photo: Emmaus convoy in Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1997)
Dom Hélder Câmara and Abbé Pierre’s appeal
Abbé Pierre spent a week in Recife to celebrate the opening of the Emmaus community and 65 years since dom Hélder Câmara, the city’s former archbishop, became a priest.
Together they launched an appeal to all people everywhere.
“Don’t forget the golden rule: the key to peace, justice and solidarity lies in serving others, and ensuring that those who suffer most and the poorest people are served.”
(Photo: Abbé Pierre and dom Hélder Câmara, August 1996)
Invitation to take action for peace and fight inequality
At the first ever Emmaus world assembly held in Africa, Renzo Fior, Emmaus International’s then Chair, condemned war and justice, which destabilise Africa and many Southern countries.
Under the banner, ‘Take action and speak out together’, a rally for justice brought together some 400 people of around 40 different nationalities who demonstrated in the streets of Ouagadougou – it was an extraordinary event, which hadn’t been seen in the Burkinabe capital for two decades previously.
(Photo from left to right: Koudbi Koala, Renzo Fior, Laurent Desmard, Abbé Pierre, René Bettiga, Raihan Ali, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 20 November 2003)
Mobilisation to restore democracy to Togo
After violence was wreaked both before and during the presidential election, the Emmaus organisations mobilised and challenged the new president of Togo about the political handling of the crisis, and demanded respect for human rights and that democracy be restored to the country.
Many people in the south of Togo were persecuted and took refuge in neighbouring countries – 25,000 fled to Benin and 20,000 to Ghana.
(Photo: Emmaus Africa providing refugee aid, Lomé, Togo, July 2005)