Heart And Soul: Abbé Pierre

L'Abbé Pierre

He devoted his life to the homeless and the poor in France and abroad

Abbé Pierre

Born Henri Grouès, 5 August 1912 in Lyon, his parents education and a trip to Assisi guided his vocation. He entered the Capuchins in 1931 after giving away all his belongings ; he was made priest in 1938 after his poor health made him unfit for monastical life.

As of 1942, he helped Jews to escape the Nazis and became a member of the Resistance. He used different cover names, one of them being Abbé Pierre. In 1944 he was sent to Alger where he met Général de Gaulle.

Abbé Pierre
Abbé Pierre Emmaüs

From 1945 to 1951 he was elected deputy at the National Assembly. His wish of a human centered, non-capitalist and non-collectivist world was shared by Albert Camus and they took part in the same federal movements and support committees.

As soon as 1949, he bought an old house near Paris and started welcoming homeless or desperate people. This was the beginning of "Emmaüs". In 1951 money problems arose but one of his companions suggested to develop a ragman activity which quickly helped finances and allowed to build or buy new houses. After some hesitations, he agreed to take part in a game on the radio which allowed him to collect thousands of francs, and to directly ask people to help him.

In the early 1950s about 7 million people had no or very poor homes in France. Winter 1954 was terribly cold and several homeless people died, including women and babies. Aware of the impact of radio on people, the Abbé made a speech describing the situation and asking 1 billion francs to build homes for the homeless. A lot of people sent donations and three weeks later the French government budgeted 10 billion francs to build 12,000 lodgings for the poorest. A law was also voted so people could not be evicted during winter.

Abbé Pierre 1954

Following his actions in France, he was invited to different countries and "Emmaüs" became international.

Abbé Pierre & Pope John Paul II

He kept on fighting for the poor and the homeless during the following decades. The economic and social situation having deteriorated in the 1980s, he created the "Fondation Abbé Pierre pour le logement des Défavorisés" in 1988.

Abbé Pierre      Abbé Pierre
Abbé Pierre

His action via Emmaüs covers 37 countries. He was the best loved person in France for many years. L'Abbé Pierre left us on 22 January 2007, and is buried in Esteville.

Abbé Pierre
Abbé Pierre