“….If you are suffering, whoever you are, come in, eat, sleep, and regain hope. Here you are loved.”

Abbé Pierre on Radio Luxembourg, 1st February 1954


When our General Manager, James, suggested that we should visit Paris to join in the 60th anniversary commemoration of the Uprising of Kindness on 1st February, I accepted without hesitation. The two of us had previously discussed the quote from Abbé Pierre that heads up this blog posting, and how we found it so affecting and moving when sharing it in church talks or just informal chats with people interested in Emmaus and its founder Abbé Pierre.

The Emmaus Lambeth delegation comprised of Matt, Christina, James and myself, with our Community Leader Lorna having to pull out on the day due to work commitments. As Lorna is fluent in French, this development did give us cause for concern, as I only have pidgin French. Fortunately, Christina also has a good working knowledge of French, and I am pleased to report that at no point on the trip did we resort to that loveable English tourist technique of speaking slowly and very loudly in English!

We set off from West Norwood, home to Emmaus Lambeth, at 9.15am on Friday, and reached Dover in good time for our ferry at midday. As we were meeting up with our French Emmaus colleagues in Paris on Saturday morning, we stayed overnight in Beauvais, which is located between Calais and Paris, close to Amiens. We decided to forego the gastronomic delights that France can offer, and see in the Chinese New Year with an all you can eat Chinese buffet.

The meeting point for the Paris event to commemorate the Uprising of Kindness was outside the Emmaus Solidarité offices in Chatelet. We had already been in contact with Marie-Anne of Emmaus International, and it was great to meet up with her and a number of her colleagues from both Emmaus International and Emmaus Solidarité. The atmosphere outside Emmaus Solidarité was buzzing with anticipation, heightened by some fantastic drumming, and the sound of the horns of the local Parisian Community vans.

We progressed from Chatelet to the square outside the Louvre. Our English accents made us rather distinctive en route, and we ended up chatting to a number of people in the procession, who, needless to say, had better English than our French (quelle surprise!) The topics of homelessness, austerity and politics engage us on both sides of the Channel, and I was delighted to hear one local Parisian volunteer say that  Ken Loach’s “The Spirit of ’45” was one of his favourite recent films.

Once we reached the Louvre, we could see a wall had been constructed of cardboard boxes with slogans in French saying “without papers” and “without a voice”. We had been presented with blue bibs showing Emmaus and stood on one side of the wall, with others having yellow bibs (volunteers and Companions) standing on the other side. Blue and yellow are the two main colours for the Emmaus Solidarité logo. We “broke down” the cardboard wall, and joined up, signifying the theme of solidarity and working together. Speeches in the square then followed, but unfortunately our collective French was unable to cope with a translation.

After a quick lunch in Paris, we headed back to Calais for an evening ferry. There were strong winds across the Channel (55mph+), but fortunately we all had good sea legs. Chapeau to Matt and James for doing all the driving.

It was a real privilege to have been part of this commemoration. The ethos and ideals that Abbé Pierre articulated back in 1954, are needed as much now as they were 60 years ago.

Danny Daly