Abbé Pierre (Henri Grouès)

1991 Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace and Fraternity among Peoples

For having fought, throughout his life, for the defence of human rights, democracy, and peace. For having entirely dedicated himself to helping to relieve spiritual and physical suffering. For having inspired – regardless of nationality, race or religion – universal solidarity with the “Emmaus Communities”.

Under the name of “Abbé Pierre” (1912 – 2007), which he had chosen during the French Resistance, the whole world knows Henri Grouès nowadays.

Inmediately after being ordained as a priest, he had to become a lay brother in the secular order, because of his health. As such, even though he had been active in the French Resistance and representative of Meurthe-et-Moselle, he dedicated all his life to the gospel: “love thy neighbour as thyself’.

In a large abandoned house in Neuilly-Plaisance, which he named “Emmaus”, towards the end of the 1940’s, be started the gathering together and sustenance of the homeless, of the suffering and the cast-outs from society. Abbé Pierre welcomed, comforted and fed them, but, above ali, taught them how to work. The “Friends of Emmaus” do not beg, but find the dignity once lost.

The fundamental principle which rules the Communities is that of a re-evaluation of the individual through bis work.

In 1949, Abbé Pierre, called to the bed-side of a murderer, who, after twenty years in prison, attempted suicide, told him: “I can’t give you anything. As long as you want to die, you have nothing to lose. So give me a hand helping others”. So it was to be: the murderer, the suicide, became the first “Friend of Emmaus”.

Thus the “Emmaus Community” started, relying on the skill of a handful of men and women, succumbed by physical and spiritual misery, who reciprocally helped each other by co-operation in their work.

When times became hard – cold, hunger – Abbé Pierre, a shining example of personal sacrifice, appealing, encouraging, always managed to bring out what he called: “the revolution of Goodness”.

These were the beginnings, in France, of the first “Emmaus Communities”; and on the strength of these experiences, Abbé Pierre then formed other similar communities in various countries (at first in Gabon and then in Senegal, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, Korea, Rwanda, Indonesia).

The first General Assembly of “Emmaus International” was held in Berne itself. There are now 290 “Emmaus Communities” in 32 different countries all over the world.

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