Faith Based Change

Henri Groués was one of eight children born to a wealthy family in France. When he was 12, he went with his father on a mission to serve the poor. This trip was to determine his life’s journey. When he was 17.5 years old he joined a monastic order and gave up rights to any inheritance from his family. He lived 7 years in the monastery but had to leave due to a lung infection. When he left the monastery, he became a Catholic priest. His name changed to Frére Phillippe.

When World War II started, he worked with the military to help Jewish people escape from persecution by the Nazis. During the remainder of the war, Abbé Pierre (his new name) became a member of the French Resistance. This included helping people avoid from being forced into labor camps. He founded a resistance newspaper. He was arrested twice but released. As a result of his resistance efforts, Abbé Pierre became devoted to human rights through civil disobedience if necessary.

Following the war, Abbé Pierre had a brief political career but became disenchanted with politics and decided to focus instead on improving the lives of the poor. He bought a run-down home near Paris and converted to a place where he could base his homeless activities.

Abbé Pierre created his first Emmaus home. The name Emmaus was selected for a village where two individuals gave Jesus a place to live, even when they didn’t know who he was. He raised the funds for the initial home by selling used goods and through the winnings from a game show where he appeared.

Abbé Pierre was outraged by the increasing deaths of the homeless. He asked the newspaper read by the wealthy to publish a plea for the homeless. The plea said in part: …”A woman froze tonight at 3 am on the pavement of Sebastopol Boulevard, clutching the eviction notice which the day before had made her homeless…”

The next morning, there was an “uprising of kindness” as described by the press. The Emmaus communities spread worldwide. These included those for people of different faiths.

For the rest of his life, Abbé Pierre became involved in a number of other humanitarian causes. Since he was the most respected person in France, his support for a humanitarian cause was often enough for it to get serious attention.

Just imagine how fate took Abbé Pierre from the seclusion of a monastery to a life of humanitarian efforts throughout the world? Just imagine how a man of faith could embrace civil disobedience and working with those with very different views to support his humanitarian efforts? Just imagine how one person could enlist an entire nation in making their country work for all its citizens?

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“Giving people a bed and a reason to get out of it.” – (A British version of the mission of Emmaus)

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