Year the first organisation was set up: 1952
Year the first organisation became a member: 1971
Member organisations: 31 Countries: 8
Trial members: 6
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 the Americas on the Emmaus International board:
Jorge Ambiado (Uruguay)
Juan Melquiades (Peru)
Joshua Prochaska (United States)
Gloria Zuluaga (Colombia)
The beginnings of Emmaus in the Americas
Outside Europe, Latin America is where Emmaus has the highest number of member organisations and where it has been established for the longest.
In Uruguay and Argentina, some of the organisations which are now part of the movement existed even before Abbé Pierre's call to action in 1954 and before the Spanish edition of Chiffonniers d’Emmaüs was brought out in 1956. They were established and given direction by priests with innovative ideas, often influenced by what would later become liberation theology. Like Abbé Pierre, these priests were extremely concerned about the most vulnerable members of society at a time when slums were growing at great speed as the poor moved from the countryside into the cities. For that reason their priority tended to be housing.
In 1950, in Uruguay, Jesuit priest Atanasio Sierra set about raising public awareness of the situation in the slums. In 1954, he set up an Emmaus organisation with a group of students, working in the slums of Montevideo.
In 1952, in Argentina, Jesuit priest and sociologist, José Balista started building modest houses for poor families with the help of his students and volunteers from both Argentina and Canada. He set up an organisation at the end of 1955 under the name of Emmaus. José Balista met Abbé Pierre, who was recovering from an illness at the time, in Switzerland in 1958 and invited him to Argentina.
From June to September 1959, Abbé Pierre visited Latin America for the first time, visiting Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
In Peru he came across French priest Gérard Protain, member of the Mission de Paris, who had set up a ragpicking community for a group of poor Peruvians living in deprived neighbourhoods several months before.
In Brazil, he met his friend Dom Hélder Câmara, whom he had known for several years already. Dom Hélder was the auxiliary bishop of Rio de Janeiro and was creating a Church which would serve the poor and defend human rights. In 1963, Dom Hélder asked Abbé Pierre to send him a volunteer to help him establish an Emmaus community in Brazil. Although this community is no longer a member of Emmaus International, several other Emmaus organisations were established throughout Brazil in the 1990s.
In Chile, in late 1957, an organisation called "Las Urracas" (the magpies) was set up by students. The organisation came to the aid of about 3,000 families who were squatting in a field in La Victoria, on the outskirts of Santiago. The students met Abbé Pierre when he gave a speech at the university in 1959 and sent two of their members to France to find out more about the ragpicking communities there. In 1961 the group established the first Emmaus ragpicking community in Chile.
During the Pinochet dictatorship, Emmaus Chile operated canteens for children from poor families. In 1976, to supply food for these canteens, some members of the organisation travelled to the border with Bolivia to buy quinoa from the local farming communities. There, they met Fernando Sandalio, an activist from the co-operative movement. As a result of this meeting, Emmaus values took root in Bolivia and Emmaus Oruro was established in 1978.
The same year, an Emmaus community was established among fishermen in Colombia by an Italian priest, Flavio Veronesi. Having witnessed the beginnings of the Emmaus community in Bilbao, Spain, he arrived in Buenaventura in the late 1970s and saw an opportunity to bring Emmaus values to life in a new way: fishing, which was how the community of African descent living on the Pacific coast traditionally made their living.
Emmaus’s story also began early on in North America, in Canada. In 1955, Abbé Pierre gave a series of speeches in Quebec in which he asked the clergy to reflect on their own lifestyle, which was very comfortable. Despite opposition from some members of the clergy, the Emmaus movement gained ground with the support of the Archbishop of Montreal. Indeed, it was the Emmaus community in Montreal that hosted the Emmaus International founding assembly in 1971. The Emmaus head office and international secretariat were based there until the end of 1976, when they moved to Charenton-le-Pont in France.
In 1966, father David Kirk (an associate of Martin Luther King) and friends established Emmaus House in New York, United States, an ecumenical community which worked with disadvantaged black and Puerto-Rican communities to promote non-violence and to campaign against the war in Vietnam. Several years later, Emmaus House in Harlem made contact after hearing about Abbé Pierre and the movement which shared its name.