Year the first organisation was set up: 1949
Year the first organisation became a member: 1969
Member organisations: 292
Trial members: 14
Germany . Italy . Netherlands . Poland . Portugal
Romania . Spain . Sweden . Switzerland . Ukraine . United Kingdom
In November 1949, Abbé Pierre set up the first Emmaus community in Neuilly-Plaisance, on the outskirts of Paris. At almost exactly the same time, people were setting up similar initiatives in other countries, including Belgium, Argentina and Japan. These people knew nothing of Abbé Pierre or Emmaus in France until the Abbé's call for action on 1st February 1954, which caught the world's attention. They saw their own values reflected in Abbé Pierre's work and got in touch with him.
Wherever they are in the world, Emmaus organisations almost always grow from initiatives set up by local people in response to local needs, using local resources and expertise. They are never imposed on communities from outside.
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Elected members representing Europe on the Emmaus International board:
Willi Does (Germany)
Julia Finer (Sweden)
Michael Heap (United Kingdom)
Jean Karekezi (France)
Jean-Philippe Légaut (Romania)
Nathalie Martz (France)
Paul Matthews (United Kingdom)
Silvana Nogarole (Italy)
Tobias Petersson (Sweden)
Eduardo Sánchez (Spain)
Maria Luisa Testori (Italy)
Han Van Beek (France)
The beginnings of Emmaus in Europe
In 1949, Abbé Pierre took in Georges Legay, who became the first Emmaus companion. The same year in Belgium a group of local people decided to take action to relieve the post-war poverty they saw all around them.
At the end of 1953, the Neuilly-Plaisance community opened several branches in other areas. Abbé Pierre's call to action in 1954 gave the Emmaus movement great momentum, both in France and in wider Europe. After France and Belgium, the Netherlands was the third country to become home to an Emmaus organisation. A young couple who had spent several months volunteering with the Neuilly-Plaisance community set up an organisation there in 1956.
At this time, most Emmaus communities and organisations were created after speeches or visits from Abbé Pierre. For example, in Switzerland, Marcel Farine and his wife met Abbé Pierre in 1956 after an address he gave in Bern and, two days later, organised their first emergency action campaign. In 1959, a conference in Lund, Sweden led to the creation of the Swallows, which sent young volunteers to India to work in slums and rural areas. The Swedish organisation immediately received support from Finland, where a separate Swallows organisation was set up in 1964. Swallows organisations were also established in Norway in 1960 and Denmark in 1963.
Ever since the movement came into being, it has often been young volunteers who have set up new Emmaus organisations after meeting other like-minded individuals. For example, the first Emmaus organisation in Germany was founded in Cologne in 1959 after a series of meetings with Belgian Emmaus organisations. In 1962 a young Italian in Verona set up the first community in Italy on returning from France, where he had spent several months volunteering with Emmaus communities. Young Spaniards who attended the 1970 international work camp in Bilbao, organised by French Emmaus organisations, established the Emmaus movement in Spain. A British businessman who had spent some time as a volunteer in Neuilly-Plaisance in the 1960s launched the first Emmaus community in the United Kingdom in Cambridge in 1992. In Portugal, a series of speeches from a French former community leader led to Emmaus taking root in 1983.
The fall of the Berlin wall at the end of 1989 and the resulting political changes made it possible for organisations in Eastern Europe to become part of the Emmaus movement. In Estonia, Emmaus Helsinki had been raising funds for a group of Christians who were committed to social progress. This group established an Emmaus community in Tallinn in 1990, following the political changes that took place at this time, although it did not join the movement in the end.
Throughout the civil war in Yugoslavia in 1992, Emmaus communities in France and Italy sent humanitarian convoys. This led to the creation of an Emmaus organisation in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the war. In Romania, French organisation Coup de Main (which later joined the Emmaus movement) helped establish an Emmaus organisation there in 1995. In 1996, with support from Emmaus International and Emmaus Cologne, an Emmaus community was set up in Poland, taking in people with mental health conditions.
Albania is the newest European member of Emmaus International, with an organisation there currently on trial membership. The organisation has been collecting, sorting and recycling used goods since 2008, mostly with the Roma community.