Emmaus or “hope regained”
Emmaus is the name of a village in Palestine where Christ appeared on Easter Monday to two of his disciples who were distraught after his crucifixion. Emmaus therefore symbolises « hope regained » and a « second chance ».
« Emmaus” was selected by the founder of the Emmaus Movement, Abbé Pierre, as the name of the house that he rented in Neuilly-Plaisance in the suburbs of Paris in 1946, following his election to Parliament. The house was converted into an international youth hostel with the aim of giving back hope to young people in the post-war period and encouraging reconciliation between nations.
Georges, the first companion
In 1949, Abbé Pierre was called to the bedside of a desperate man who had tried to commit suicide. He offered him the chance to give meaning to his life by “helping Abbé Pierre to help. » Georges became the first Emmaus companion.
Many other people who were without hope would follow him. Together the Emmaus companions formed communities and helped the most disadvantaged members of society, building emergency housing to alleviate the post-war crisis.
Work, our primary source of income
In 1951, disappointed by the political and social stance of his party, Abbé Pierre left parliament. Funds used to take in the most destitute members of society ran dry, but the companions refused to resort to begging. They had the idea of collecting and selling rubbish.
The Emmaus companions continued collecting junk from homes and therefore managed to help those who were suffering most. However, winter 1954 was particularly harsh, with adults and children freezing to death in the streets. Abbé Pierre launched a national appeal: essential items flowed in from all parts. It was an “uprising of kindness”.
Spreading the Emmaus values around the world
The story and work of Abbé Pierre and his companions spread beyond the borders of France. From 1956, Abbé Pierre began to travel to spread his ideas throughout the world. Groups were set up on all the continents of the world.
In 1963, during a visit to Latin America, his boat sank and he was wrongly reported to have perished. Aware that his death might signal the end of his initiative, Abbé Pierre decided to convene all the Emmaus groups to a world assembly.
The official creation and structuring of the Emmaus Movement
In 1969, the Universal Manifesto of the Emmaus Movement was adopted by 70 groups from 20 countries at the World Assembly in Berne (Switzerland). An international liaison secretariat was created in order to bind together the Emmaus Movement. In 1971, the Montreal World Assembly (Canada) approved the adoption of the Emmaus International statutes “to continue the action started in 1949.”
The regions were geographically defined. America, Asia and Europe organised themselves quickly, with the Africa Region being created at a later date.
The Ouagadougou decentralisation process (Burkina Faso, Africa)
Just over 30 years later in 2003, the Ouagadougou World Assembly decided to adopt a decentralised management system for the movement. The four regions, until then organised on an informal basis, endowed themselves with statutes, with these organisations bringing together all the groups on each continent.
Today, the Emmaus Movement is a decentralised organisation:
- Member groups at local level (town or village).
- National organisations, federations of member groups located in the same country.
- Regional organisations, decentralised structures bringing together the member organisations from the same region.