Georges Legay - France
He was “the first Emmaus companion”
A former convict, reprieved after 20 years for his heroism in a fire, he returned home to find his house occupied by someone else.
Desperate, he attempted suicide. He later received Abbé Pierre, who spontaneously offered “the opposite of charity” – he suggested Georges “help him help others” by building accommodation for homeless families.
Years later, he confided, “Father, you gave me the only thing I truly needed: help others, and feel useful".
Satoko Kitahara - Japan
Maria, the Madonna of the rag-pickers
Satoko Kitahara was a young Japanese woman from a wealthy family.
In 1950 she converted to Catholicism and gave up her studies in pharmacology and voluntarily lived with the poverty-stricken, despised rag-pickers in the ‘city of ants’ in Tokyo, set up in the aftermath of the war by MM. Ozawa and Matsui).
Through her work and determination, she received assurance from the authorities that the ‘ants’ were not driven out of the neighbourhood.
In 1958, the woman the poor used to call "Maria, the Madonna of the rag-pickers” died, exhausted by tuberculosis, at the age of 28.
José Balista - Argentina
He founded Emmaus in Argentina
A Jesuit priest and teacher of social sciences, he also worked as a government advisor.
José Balista was an idealist and reacted pragmatically to the explosion of the slums, and in 1952 with the help of Argentine and Canadian volunteers, built small homes for low-income families.
From 1963, he was one of the figures Abbé Pierre appealed to in order to prepare the General Assembly.
He was vice-president of Emmaus International from 1971 to 1981.
In 1976 he published a doctoral thesis in sociology, Emmaus and Abbé Pierre: Myth, Utopia and Charismatic Influence (School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris). He died on 27 November 1986 in Buenos Aires.
Lucie Coutaz - France
For Abbé Pierre she was “the one, without whom, nothing would have been possible”
Lucie Coutaz was born in Grenoble in 1899. After five years of paralysis, she recovered in Lourdes in 1921.
A union leader for the French Confederation of Christian workers, she was recommended to Abbé Pierre in 1942, and joined the French Resistance with him during the Second World War. Abbé Pierre appealed to her again in 1945 and she became his parliamentary secretary.
The true co-founder of the Emmaus Movement alongside Abbé Pierre, she supported him with all of his work until she died on 16 May 1982.
Appreciated for her sense of action, availability, her discretion, leadership and efficiency, for Abbé Pierre she was “the one, without whom, nothing would have been possible”.
Atanasio Sierra – Uruguay 1954
The ‘gaucho priest’, as he was known
In 1950, the Jesuit Father Atanasio Sierra was a religious studies teacher in Montevideo, Uruguay and was highly charismatic.
With help from volunteers, he raised people’s awareness about the sprawling slums.
In 1954, he spoke about Abbé Pierre and along with some students set up an Emmaus group that worked in the areas surrounding Montevideo.
The ‘gaucho priest’, as he was known, launched action to help children, built housing and encouraged the beneficiary population to organise.
In 1958, he bought a plot of land on which he built a second-hand clothes shop.
He died tragically in 1966 in a truck accident, when he was transporting vegetables harvested at the Emmaus farm school to the market.
Stephan Drechsler – Germany 1959
He got involved in Emmaus’ Germany creation
Stephan Drechsler discovered Abbé Pierre in 1956 at a conference in Belgium on the development of a united Europe, following which he took part in a friendship camp for abandoned children in the country.
With a small group of young Catholics from Cologne in Germany, he got involved in Emmaus’ work in Belgium.
The general secretary of Emmaus in Belgium helped him in return by organising a first collection of unwanted goods in Cologne on 1 March 1959, the date which marks the launch of Emmaus in Germany.
A community of volunteers was created shortly afterwards.
Pepe Aravena and Óscar Pregnán – Chile 1959
Members of Las Urracas group (meaning the magpies)
In late 1957, 3,000 families were squatting on a plot of land in La Victoria (an area of Santiago) on which they had built humble huts.
Students dedicated their free time to helping them and ran cultural activities for the young people. Some of them then moved to the area.
In 1959, they were visited by Abbé Pierre and discovered what Emmaus was all about. They were intrigued by what they heard and two members of Las Urracas group (meaning the magpies), Pepe Aravena and Óscar Pregnán, travelled to France to find out about the life and work of the rag-pickers.
On their return in 1961, they launched the first Emmaus rag-picking community in Chile.
Pepe Aravena was one of the five members of the temporary Board that arranged the first Emmaus International General Assembly in 1969.
Grégoire Haddad – Lebanon 1959
A friend of Abbé Pierre, he is one of the important figures in Emmaus’ history
In 1957, Grégoire Haddad, the Melkite Bishop of Beirut, founded the Social Movement with a multi-faith group of Lebanese people.
Abbé Pierre delivered a lecture in Beirut in late December 1958. On his return in January, he was surprised to discover that a Christian, Muslim and a Druse had already founded an Emmaus community called L’Oasis de l’Espérance (Oasis of Hope): a strong symbol in the multi-faith context of Lebanon.
Its first volunteers were from the Lebanese Social Movement.
Grégoire Haddad did groundbreaking social work and was relieved of his post of bishop in 1974 for having dared to say that “The Lebanese church (…) should sell its possessions and give them to the poor."
A friend of Abbé Pierre, Grégoire Haddad is one of the important figures in Emmaus’ history.
Pierre Ceyrac – India 1960
He devoted his life to the country’s poor
Pierre Ceyrac, a French Jesuit priest, went to work in India as a missionary in 1937. He trained social workers in Chennai and was the chaplain for India’s catholic students.
Ceyrac was shocked by the extreme poverty and the caste system in India and devoted his life to the country’s poor and specifically to the Dalits, with the encouragement of Nehru and Gandhi.
In the 1960s, the first Swallows arrived in India as Emmaus volunteers and Father Ceyrac’s pupils and social workers went on to found the Emmaus VCDS group with them.
Dagny Arbman – Sweden 1960
She was in charge of the work of the Emmaus volunteers in India
Dagny Arbman was one of the very first members of Swallows of Sweden and was in charge of the work of the Emmaus volunteers in India.
In a slum of Madras (now called Chennai), Swallows opened a crafts workshop specialising in batik dyeing and a community centre.
A Swallows association was created in Chennai in 1965.
Gérard Protain – Peru 1960
He was helping the Emmaus rag-pickers in Peru
In 1959, in the Peruvian capital Lima, Gérard Protain, a French priest, was helping the Emmaus rag-pickers, who were Peruvians living in deprived areas, to work as a team and help each other.
Their hard and thankless work on El Montón rubbish dump enabled them to earn a living and help even poorer people by building humble homes and nurseries for abandoned children.
However, Protain’s work and his political stances were not to the authorities’ liking, and he was forced to leave Peru for Finland where he founded Emmaus Helsinki.
David Kirk – US 1966
He founded the Emmaus House in New-York
In April 1966 in New York, David Kirk (who had worked alongside Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day) and a few friends founded Emmaus House as the centre of the Movement for Change in the Church and Society.
Emmaus House was located in Harlem and was an ecumenical community that espoused non-violence, rejected the Vietnam War and worked with the Black and Puerto Rican communities.
Emmaus Harlem (Emmaus House) only heard about Abbé Pierre and the Emmaus Movement a few years later. The group took part in the Emmaus International world assembly in 1971.
Elisabeth de Godzinsky – Finland 1966
Pillar of Emmaus Helsinki community
Elisabeth de Godzinsky was from a well-off background and was a true polyglot.
She gradually discovered Abbé Pierre and Emmaus from 1950 onwards through her reading which chimed with the hope she had felt since World War Two (1939 – 45).
In 1958, she met Abbé Pierre at the Maison de la France in Helsinki. She became involved in the work of Emmaus Helsinki from the moment it was launched in 1966 and would be an unobtrusive pillar of the community for 23 years.
She took part in the first General Assembly and in the drafting of the Universal Manifesto.
The First President of Emmaus International
Born in Switzerland in 1924, Marcel Farine joined the Swiss Post Office at the age of 21 and was actively involved in political, social and religious work.
Along with his wife Thérèse, he met Abbé Pierre at his Extreme poverty is a judgement of the world lecture in Berne in February 1956. He founded Emmaus Berne that same year.
Marcel Farine was committed to helping the most vulnerable people in a range of settings. He founded the Emmaus Switzerland – Leprosy Support in 1960 for which he criss-crossed Africa and Asia and which he headed for 37 years.
His life was marked by his meetings and work with committed men and women such as Raoul Follereau and Dom Hélder Câmara. He arranged the first General Assembly and then became president of Emmaus International from 1969 to 1979 and was one of the main architects of the Movement.
Marcel Farine passed away on 27 March 2008 at the age of 84.
José María Llorens – Argentine 1970
An Argentine Jesuit worker priest
From 1958 José María Llorens fought alongside people who were living illegally on a public rubbish dump in the San Martín district of Mendoza (Argentina) to stop their huts from being demolished and then for better living conditions, dignity and the right to education.
He went to live with them and helped 80 poor families form a cooperative to build homes and feed themselves. The cooperative incorporated the Emmaus Argentina National Secretariat in 1980.
José María Llorens was very intuitive and told the local authorities about the unacceptable extreme poverty in which part of the population was living.
Several arrests and an attempt to murder him did not silence him and instead strengthened his message.
Lucy Poulain – US 1970
She founded HOME
A Carmelite sister in Maine (US), Lucy Poulin left the convent in the 1970s to work locally with women who were unemployed following a factory closure.
She founded and managed a local crafts cooperative, HOME (Homeworkers Organized for More Employment), for the inhabitants of the poor rural area of Hancock.
The tourist industry was increasing property speculation in this region, in which many people were homeless, so Lucy Poulin set up a group that bought plots of land and built traditional homes on them for the poorest people in society. She read about Emmaus and Abbé Pierre in a magazine article and got in touch with the Movement.
H.O.M.E. became a member of Emmaus International in 1986.
The second President of Emmaus International
In 1955-6, Jean Wilken, a young Dutch nurse, volunteered at the Neuilly-Plaisance international youth hostel. He looked after visitors and sometimes acted as community leader at the neighbouring community.
He was helped by a young Dutch volunteer, Elisabeth, who became his wife. On their return to Holland, they publicised Abbé Pierre’s message and the Emmaus solidarity model, encouraging solidarity initiatives to be set up in 'Third World' countries.
The first Emmaus community in the Netherlands opened in Haarzuilens, close to Utrecht, in 1966.
Jean Wilken represented José Balista on the Executive Committee when the latter was unable to attend between 1976-9 and consequently got to know other Emmaus groups.
He was elected president of Emmaus International by the 1979 General Assembly and supported the enlargement of the Movement and the much-needed expansion of the role of the international secretariat until the end of his term of office in 1986.
Jean Wilken laid the foundations for the regionalisation of Emmaus and placed the poorest countries at the forefront in the international governing bodies.
Martine Savarimuthu & Kousalya Seethapathy – India 1980
They founded the Village Community Development Society
The son of farm workers and a Dalit, Martine Savarimuthu studied under Father Pierre Ceyrac in Madras (now Chennai) where he trained to become a social worker.
He subsequently went on to become a lawyer. Martine devoted himself to the Dalits (previously known as the Untouchables) and to defending their civic and social rights.
He founded the Village Community Development Society (VCDS) with them, funded by Swallows from Sweden, and that was how he discovered the Emmaus Movement in 1984, with VCDS becoming a member in 1992.
Kousalya Seethapathy is from a higher caste. Her parents allowed her to go to school, which girls from her village were not allowed to do.
She gained the conviction that women’s independence could be achieved through education and work. She married Martine in 1977, defying tradition and her family’s opposition, and was consequently excluded from her caste.
In 1980, she and Martine founded VCDS, which fights for the rights of poor women and for education for children. The American Biographical Institute named her Woman of the Year in 2000 for India.
Kousalya Seethapathy was elected onto the Emmaus International Executive Committee in 2007.
Albert Tévoédjrè – Benin 1984
He worked for democracy in Benin following the long dictatorship
Born in 1929 in Porto Novo (Benin), Albert Tévoédjrè has a doctorate in economic and social sciences.
Throughout his life he has held posts of great responsibility in Benin and then in a number of international organisations, notably the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva.
In 1977, Tévoédjrè published La Pauvreté, richesse des peuples (Poverty, the wealth of mankind), a daring book that led to him be invited as guest speaker at the Emmaus International General Assembly in 1984. This proved to be the start of a long and fruitful friendship with Abbé Pierre and the Emmaus Movement and led to Emmaus being founded in Benin in 1988.
Tévoédjrè returned to his country after a long time spent abroad and worked for democracy in Benin following the long dictatorship.
Rogelio Urquiza – Argentine 1985
“Our goal is for poor people to change their own lives.”
An Argentine Jesuit priest and university director of education following a career as a psychology lecturer, Rogelio Urquiza worked alongside Father José María Llorens to develop the district of Mendoza by the end of the 1970s.
A member of the Board, he was appointed Executive Committee member for Latin America in 1983.
His many visits to Europe and his involvement in the Verona GA in 1988 enabled him to see the benefits of creating an Emmaus community in the district of San Martín in Mendoza. In 1991, he became the first member of the Executive Committee from the ‘Third World’.
Rogelio founded and encouraged a large number of educational projects in the Latin American Emmaus groups.
His vision of Emmaus is summarised by the slogan he used for the Board meeting held in Burzaco in 1991: “Our goal is for poor people to change their own lives.” Rogelio passed away on 9 August 2009.
Third President of Emmaus International
The Italian Franco Bettoli was a president who marked the history of Emmaus International. He joined the Movement in 1967 via the European youth camps scheme and was involved in them until 1972.
He then used this experience to set up Emmaus Laterina close to Arezzo in Italy, along with his wife Margit from Denmark (who he met at the youth camps).
A man of action with strong convictions, he worked with Abbé Pierre in 1971 to set up cooperation twinning schemes between Italy and Bangladesh and later Burkina Faso.
Bettoli was elected Vice-President of Emmaus International in 1981, becoming president in 1986, and reinforced the political dimension in the regional assemblies.
He made a personal commitment and got the Movement involved in a range of international campaign issues: supporting the campaign for the return of democracy in Benin in 1990, setting up an ‘Ex-Soviet block countries committee’ following the fall of the Berlin Wall to coordinate support from Emmaus groups in Western Europe for the countries of the ex-Soviet block and creating the ‘Bosnia Committee’ to coordinate the aid provided by Emmaus groups from Italy and France in the former Yugoslavia.
Franco Bettoli internationalised the Emmaus International governing bodies by arranging the first Board meeting outside Europe in 1983 in Lima (Peru) and involved solidarity beneficiary countries in decision-making.
He put forward the idea of revising EI’s statutes in 1994 in order to imbibe them with a more collective and political vision. This revision partially came to fruition in 2003.
His time at Emmaus International “captivated, shook things up, encouraged people to surpass themselves and gave an example of striking the right balance between reflection and action.” (Jean Rousseau, 8 April 2008, at Franco Bettoli’s funeral).
Selwyn Image – UK, 1992
He founded the first community in UK
In Cambridge (UK), volunteers were distributing soup to homeless people when one of them shouted, “we don’t need food, we need work!”
One of these volunteers, Selwyn Image, suddenly thought back to the 1960s and the months he spent as a volunteer at Emmaus Neuilly-Plaisance (France).
He got in contact with Emmaus International and launched the first UK Emmaus community in Cambridge.
The fourth President of Emmaus International
The Italian Renzo Fior, Emmaus International’s fourth president, joined the Movement when he became leader of Emmaus Verona (Italy) in 1976.
Having launched Emmaus Villafranca in 1985, he gradually took on more responsibility in the Emmaus Movement, firstly at national, then at European and finally at international level, when he was elected president by the 1999 GA.
Renzo Fior was re-elected in 2003 and over the course of his two terms of office completed the revision of Emmaus International’s statutes and the restructuring of the Movement into four new regions, giving each level a role and responsibilities. His ability to listen, his patience, people-skills and desire to widen participation, particularly at Board level, left an impression.
He used to sign off documents with the phrase “peace, happiness and courage”.
Raihan Ali – Bangladesh, 2005
He founded the Thanapara association
At the age of 13, Raihan Ali survived a massacre of the men in his village by the Pakistani army during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
He felt that “God had spared me so that I could help the women who survived the massacre.” He started his social work in 1976 with the Thanapara association (now an EI member and founded by Swallows from Sweden) and took on increasing responsibility, becoming director in 2001.
He developed international solidarity relations (funding and exporting Fair Trade crafts to Europe and Japan), ensured that several hundred people earned a proper wage, set up microcredit and promoted women’s rights.
His group is heavily involved in the campaign against arsenic in water and in organic farming training. Raihan brings hope to the village’s residents by developing a fairer micro-society on a daily basis.
The fifth President of Emmaus International
The current president of Emmaus International, Jean Rousseau already had a long Emmaus ‘career’ behind him when he stood for election in 2007.
He has a business background but quickly switched to an area that was close to his heart, becoming an Emmaus community leader in 1980. He gradually became involved in the Movement outside Emmaus Angers, firstly as a member of the Committee of the Union centrale des communautés Emmaüs (France) and then as Emmaus France president from 1996 to 2002, a period during which he set in motion the reform of Emmaus France and the regrouping of the French communities.
This post gave him automatic membership of the EI Board and he therefore took part in international meetings, in drafting the ‘Solidarity Commitments’ and the proposed new EI statutes between 1999 and 2002. In his eyes, being an elected representative is “a form of service and commitment” and the chance to “contribute everyday experience to the working groups and decision-making bodies.”
His mandate has been marked by the need to “keep going” following the death of the Movement’s founder, to publicise his ideas and above all to bring together the Emmaus groups around the values expressed in the founding texts.
He is tasked with implementing the five priority political action areas that were approved as of 2003, with involving groups in their development and with developing decentralisation and the organisational structure that has resulted from the reform of the statutes.
A tireless worker, Jean Rousseau visits all the continents in turn in order to experience the diversity and wealth of Emmaus, while still deputy leader of Emmaus Angers.