100 years on: Abbé Pierre, Emmaus founder and campaigner for social justice, is remembered
Sunday 5th August marked 100 years since the birth of Emmaus' founder, Abbé Pierre, the inspirational French campaigner against poverty and injustice.
Henri Grouès, better known as Abbé Pierre, was born on 5 August 1912 in Lyon in France. An active member of the French Resistance, he became an MP after the Second World War and devoted himself to fighting for better housing for unemployed and homeless refugees in Paris. He shared his home with homeless people and built temporary homes in his own garden, at Neuilly Plaisance, which became the first Emmaus Community. When a baby and elderly woman froze to death in the hard winter of 1954, Abbé Pierre made a passionate appeal on radio that has passed into French social history. At last, his message was heeded: Parliament voted for emergency funding for 12 000 homes, gifts and cash poured in from ordinary French people. Emmaus Communities and low-cost housing initiatives began their spread across France, Europe and beyond.
To the end, Abbe Pierre never ceased to campaign for social justice "et les autres?" (What about the others?) He died in 2007.
Selwyn Image, who first brought Emmaus to the UK, remembers Abbé Pierre's visit to what would eventually become Emmaus Cambridge: "We only had a cow shed in a field. Abbé Pierre came to visit us and I remember that he grilled me to check that I was truly serious. After he returned home he sent us £30000 and said that when we had made a success of the first Community we should pass the money onto the next one.
"He was as sharp as a razor and utterly committed. He never, ever gave up on something he felt was just. He lived on a combination of will and faith. He was a wise and extraordinary man.”
21 years after Emmaus Cambridge was first established, there are 23 Emmaus Communities in the UK. Over 500 formerly homeless people live in the Communities and work in the Community enterprises. Worldwide, Emmaus has over 300 proejcts in nearly 40 countries.
Read more about events to celebrate Abbé Pierre's centenary on the Emmaus International website.
Published on 6th August, 2012