Emmaus was founded in 1949 by Father Henri-Antoine Grouès. (always known as Abbé Pierre), a former member of the Resistance, a député in the French National Assembly and a Catholic priest.
One night a man was brought to Abbé Pierre after a failed suicide attempt. He felt he didn’t have anything to live for. Abbé Pierre took Georges in, as the very first Emmaus companion. Together they started building homes for the homeless.
By 1951, Abbé Pierre had eighteen companions and so much to do that he resigned as a député. When the companions found out that Abbé Pierre was touring restaurants in Paris asking for donations, they were outraged. The companions felt that living off charitable donations compromised their self-respect so they became ‘rag pickers’, collecting items which people no longer required and selling them on.
This was the beginning of Emmaus as a social enterprise.
In January 1954, Abbé Pierre was told about a couple who had frozen to death on the streets of Paris. A few days later he learned that a woman had been evicted from her home and had died of hypothermia on Boulevard de Sébastopol the day afterwards.
Abbé Pierre wrote an open letter to Parisian newspapers, asking for 300 big tents, 5000 blankets and 200 catalytic stoves, to keep homeless people from freezing to death on the streets. Supplies and donations flooded in and Emmaus communities were set up around France.
Emmaus operates on four continents and came to the UK in 1991 .Selwyn Image encountered a homeless man in Cambridge who challenged him to do more than dole out soup. Selwyn managed to find Emmaus in Paris via a library and contacted Abbé Pierre.
The UK has the biggest Emmaus movement outside France with 28 Emmaus communities across the UK.
Each community in the UK has a shop or social enterprise, Examples include cafés, gardening projects and removals companies. Emmaus provides companions with a home as long for as long as they need it and useful work.
Selwyn Image was honoured with the Chevalier de l’Ordre national de la Légion d’Honneur on 12 January 2017.
To find an Emmaus community near you EMMAUS