Emmaus Europe

This was more than just a football tournament

In July Emmaus Europe and IFS-Emmaus organised the first edition of the Emmaus Football Championship for Peace and Human Rights in Srebrenica. Touching speeches were delivered, new friendships were made and unforgettable experiences were had. This event brought together over 70 people, including 31 companions from 17 groups in 13 different countries. They reflected the diversity of Emmaus in Europe.

We had a good time over there,” says Gusti, a companion who has been living in the Emmaus Cabries community for 4 years. He signed up for the event in order to play football and to learn more about the Emmaus movement across Europe, but he did not expect to get so emotional when listening to people’s stories and whilst attending a conference on non-violence, “it was the first time I had ever been to a meeting like that. The content was really interesting and I learned a lot…Listening to Dzile and Abdul almost brought me to tears. I will never forget those moments.”

The stories of Dzile, who escaped the Srebrenica genocide, and Abdul, an Afghan refugee who is now a photographer, were indeed amongst the most touching moments in the agenda of this event on building peace and respecting human rights.

Zizou, a former companion who has now become a group leader in Cabries, agrees with Gusti, “I remember hearing about the war in Yugoslavia on TV and so to find myself in Srebrenica over 20 years later it was…emotional.” When we asked him what he thought of the stories of Dzile and Abdul, Zizou was unable to find the words to express himself, he was overcome with emotion. What he did outline was the importance of meeting people and the fun he had when playing football, “after the first day we had already become good friends and that was thanks to the football games. There were people from different age groups and cultures, who spoke several different languages…events like this are just amazing!”

This event was organised with a simple set-up: with time for listening to others, workshop sessions and conferences in the morning and football in the afternoon. In between the two we set aside some quiet time, time for artistic activities, for self-expression or for people to do anything else that they want to do. And nobody was forced into anything, “we felt like we were on holiday even though we had an agenda for meetings, the meetings were interesting too!” remembers Leïla, the leader of the Emmaus Iasi group in Romania who came to this event with seven companions from her group. “This event was a unique opportunity to bring companions to a gathering where they did not need to speak a foreign language and where they could learn more about the movement on the European level”. Aurélie, the leader of Emmaus Cabries, agreed with Leïla, “this event struck a chord with the companions. In 15 years with Emmaus this is the first time that I have seen so many of our companions attending an event and getting involved in the conferences. Within our communities we often live in a bubble and the wider movement…it’s almost something theoretical in a way so it’s great to spend some time to learn more about it and to see just how diverse and rich our movement is”.

On the workshop/conference agenda: a visit to the Srebrenica genocide museum and memorial followed by the intense speech by Dzile (a survivor of the massacre who chose to return to the region despite the trauma in order to build peace). The next day Daniele Taurino, a philosopher and member of the movement for non-violence, invited the participants to learn more about the concepts of non-violence in the context of a Europe at war. The next day Afghan photographer Abdul Saboor spoke with gentleness and a disarming simplicity about how he became an exile and about his work as a photographer. An exhibition of 16 of his photos was set up in the next room and Abdul took the time to tell the stories behind each and every photo.

The morning sessions were emotional and the participants sometimes left for lunch with heavy hearts. “It was like you dropped a rock into my heart Abdul…” said Maria-Luisa after listening to Abdul’s story. The afternoon sessions of football and relaxation helped people to shed this burden and to meet other members of the group. How many friendships were forged around the football pitches, in the stands cheering the players on or during the goal celebrations?

Sport as a mechanism for integration and learning

François, who is the Chair of the Emmaus Switzerland Federation and who has been part of the movement for almost 8 years, tells us more, “we never, or hardly ever, get the opportunity to sit down and share things with the companions. [At Emmaus meetings] we often talk about concepts, priorities, statutes, etc. But at this event, everyone was welcome, everyone was equal. Sport puts everybody on an equal footing. It felt important.”

During the football games in the afternoons nobody had a status, nobody was wearing a specific “hat”. There were no longer the participants on one side and the speakers, organisers, interpreters and sound engineers on the other side: everybody suddenly transformed into football players. François continued, “we just let everybody be themselves, the ‘Emmaus family’ feeling was really the aftertaste of this event”.

“The energy of the participants and their interest in the activities offered made everything easy to organise” said Sabina, the national delegate for Bosnia and a member of the executive committee of Emmaus Europe. Sabina also vividly remembers the unique atmosphere of this event.

As a co-organiser for this event on the behalf of IFS-Emmaus, Sabina’s expectations were high: she hoped that IFS would renew its relationships with groups from Western Europe and that a message of hope could be sent out to our Ukrainian friends. Yes – it is possible to rebuild, to see peace reborn from a pile of ash despite atrocities, as was the case in Srebrenica.

To conclude this amazing event the organisers had scheduled a ‘graduation ceremony’. Thus all of the participants were able to leave with a souvenir and all of the groups were able to take a trophy, of sorts, home with them. François told us, “during the graduation ceremony a companion told me, “nobody has ever given me a hug like that”. That just makes you want to cry! Moments like that are a gift, you know the event has been a success when you hear that”.

Just before the departure Joanna from Emmaus Lublin, who played the role of interpreter for the nine Polish people and the four Ukrainians present at the tournament, summed things up perfectly for this unique event, “these have been the five best days of my life!”

Everything paid off and the Emmaus movement was the winner.

Bosnia Herzegovina Defending human rights / Migration  News

Many fans came to watch their favourite teams play. © Emmaus Europe