Emmaüs charity marks its 60th

A special event in Paris and open doors days around France are being held to celebrate the founding of the homelessness

30 October 2009

HOMELESSNESS charity Emmaüs, founded by Abbé Pierre, is marking its 60th anniversary with a celebration at the Zénith de Paris concert hall today.

About 4,000 people are attending the day, which will include a film about Emmaüs’s history, debates, and a concert including Olivia Ruiz, Cali and Diams.

Emmaüs started with a community at Neuilly-Plaisance in the Ile-de-France in October 1949 and it now counts 117 communities in 34 countries and 15,000 people including volunteers, homeless community members and employees.

The inspiration came when Abbé Pierre welcomed, in a house he was restoring, a homeless ex-con who was considering suicide – asking him to in turn help others.

The communities provide a home for the homeless, where they can help themselves by collecting, sorting and reselling donated goods – however the charity also carries out many wider activities in the homelessness and anti-poverty cause.

Emmaüs is a secular organisation, despite its name which comes from the New Testament or the fact its founder was a priest.

“Abbé Pierre wanted to show what could be done faced with the immense needs of society after the war,” said the president of Emmaüs France Christophe Deltombe.

He went on to recruit people who could help him found communities across France. The charity became famous when Abbé Pierre called on the French to feel solidarity for the homeless in a severe winter in 1954 when several people died of cold. 'My friends, help!,' he said, on Radio Luxembourg. 'A woman has just died on the pavement, frozen, at 3.00 tonight, clutching the paper which was used to evict her the day before yesterday.”

Mr Deltombe said the struggle continues, including helping poor workers who do not have the means to pay for accommodation, and immigrants.

The name of the charity was inspired by a passage in which Jesus appears to two men walking to the village of Emmaüs, who are discouraged because of his death.

Abbé Pierre, who died in 2007 and was often called the most popular personality in France, chose it as a symbol of hope. He was famous both for his dedication to the homeless and for his unorthodox views – despite being a Catholic priest he supported gay adoption and married and women priests and criticised the Pope’s stance on condom use. His slogan was: “don’t just endure, always act.”

Father Gildas Kerheul, assistant secretary general of the conference of bishops of France, said: “He set an example of a personality who, responding to the needs of the moment, managed to create a collective dimension to his actions."

Monseigneur Bernard Housset, president of the church’s council for solidarity, said: “Abbé Pierre was able to have consideration for the dispossessed, acting not ‘for’ them, but ‘with’ them.”

Emmaüs communities around France will be having open doors events from Sunday until November 17 to mark the anniversary.

Photo:Oriol Lladó

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