After the Second World War, Europe needed more than ever people of good will. In 1949, one of the world’s most important initiatives focused on fighting homelessness and poverty was founded in France.
Emmaus International, which currently has 350 member organisations operating in 37 countries around the world, was founded by Father Henri-Antoine Groues (Abbé Pierre). The idea is simple. People in need (mostly the homeless) help those who are more in need of assistance in order to feel needed in society. The name of the organisation comes from a passage in the bible, from the Gospel of Luke, which tells the story of how two men saw the resurrected Jesus in the town of Emmaus, and so regained hope.
It all started when Abbé Pierre met a man named Georges, a former convict. He was a homeless man who wanted to commit suicide. Abbé Pierre not only saved his life but also give him a purpose to carry on. From then on Georges become his first compagnon (companion) and helped him spread the word not only in France but also across the whole world. Together they built the first few Emmaus houses and gave hope those who were in doubt.
In 1954, during a particularly cold winter in France, Emmaus managed to help many homeless people. At the time a lot of people were freezing to death on the streets of Paris. Because of Abbé Pierre’s initiative, French policy on accommodation for those in need was changed.
Over the course of the following 50 years, right up until today, many new Emmaus centres have been developed around the world.
The most important thing for Emmaus is to reintegrate other homeless people, addicts and refugees into society. Everybody is welcome to join the group but each person is required to work for the organisation. Members of the commune share food, living space and money, which they all earn equally. Even though staying in Emmaus houses is not designed to be permanent (they should only be there for as long as it takes them to reintegrate into society) sometimes people who need constant assistance, especially people with disabilities, stay there all their life.
In 1951, Abbé Pierre had some financial problems and decided to take advice from his compagnons and start recovering raw materials (from their donors) in order to clean them and then prepare them for reuse. This was a success and so they started selling these refurbished items on local stands. This idea is used in every Emmaus centre in the world. Sometimes this can be the only income members receive, but it is nevertheless always put in a shared budget or into funding new shelters for homeless people.
Another great example of how people in Emmaus work is the agricultural aspect of the organisation. The vast majority of groups have their own house with farms which they take care of. Beside this, they also work in workshops making furniture and other items. For Emmaus, work is the highest priority and the biggest reward for members.
Emmaus International is giving hope to those who think that nothing good can happen to them anymore. They give them tools to improve their lives and the opportunity to change somebody else’s future. They encourage people to take responsibility for their society and this way of thinking is truly utopian.
More information on the Emmaus International website: