French Figure

Abbé Pierre (founder Of Emmaus)

Abbé Pierre is best known for founding the Emmaus organisation, through which he brought relief, purpose and hope to the homeless and downtrodden. His system was one based on renewal and renovation, the development of communities that depended for survival on their own efforts. This generally included the collection and sale of used furniture, books and clothing.

Emmaus was founded in 1949, when Abbé Pierre rented a large dilapidated house in Neuilly-Plaisance and converted these premises into an international youth hostel. By autumn, Emmaus had its first member, Georges Legay, a despairing convict who had tried to commit suicide. His encounter with Legay inspired the name of the organisation (in the Bible, it was on the road to Emmaus that the risen Jesus met his disciples).

Outraged at a society that could allow a baby to freeze to death in the winter of 1954, Abbé Pierre penned an open letter to shame the government into a large programme of housing reconstruction. He expressed withering contempt for the indifferent bourgeoisie and gained a moral authority over his fellow countrymen, an accolade he would retain for the rest of his career and life.

Considered to be a symbol of Christian efforts to achieve social justice, he expanded his mission to more than fifty countries on four continents. Throughout his travels he dealt with issues from water quality to contemporary slavery and shared his Emmaus experiences across Europe, South America and Asia. Having survived a shipwreck in 1963, Abbé Pierre came to understand the importance of creating a structure to link all of these groups, Emmaus International.

Abbé Pierre remained active until his death on 22nd January 2007 in the Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris. He was buried in a cemetery in Esteville, a small village in Seine-Maritime, where he used to live.