*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 22nd of January 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
In 2005 a popular French television show presented the Greatest French People of All Time. Who do you think might top that list?
Charlemagne is #22; Napoleon is #16; Jacques Cousteau is #9, and Victor Hugo is #6. You probably know #’s 1 and 2- Charles De Gaulle (leader of the French resistance and later President) and Louis Pasteur, whose name has been turned into a verb.
#3? Unless you have a relatively deep knowledge of 20th century French history, you probably have never heard of him. His name was Abbe Pierre, and he died on the 22nd of January in 2007. A giant in both church and state in France, he would found the Emmaus Houses, which currently serve the homeless and destitute in 336 houses across 37 countries. Let me tell you about Abbe Pierre.
He was born Henri Marie Joseph Groups in Lyon to a wealthy silk trader in 1912
At the age of 12, he went with his father to serve the poor on the city’s perimeter- he considered this to be the inspiration for his career.
1931 (age of 19) he joined the Capuchin order- renounced all wealth and took the name Brother Philippe
1932-1939 lived in a monastery- had to leave in 1939 due to bad health
He was ordained as a priest and made Curate of Grenoble’s cathedral in 1939
With the outbreak of the war, he became an NCO for the Trains Transport corps- went to training in the Alsace but had to leave on account of his health.
Fall of France in 1942- was vicar at Grenoble and learned how to forge papers to help Jews escape- he served as a priest by day and had a sophisticated forging business he ran overnight.
1943 began writing for an underground paper using various pseudonyms- during a radio interview, he asked not to use his name and was called “Abbé Pierre” the name stuck
After the war was elected deputy in the National Assembly- independent but worked with the Popular Republican Movement and Christian Democrats.
He was involved with the World Federalist Party; through this, he came to know the likes of Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin. Abbe Pierre was a hero to many across Europe who knew his story.
He quit politics in 47 and moved into a sizeable dilapidated home that he would begin to repair and open to any who needed shelter. This is the beginning of the Emmaus movement- named after the road where two dejected disciples were given hope by meeting the risen Christ and breaking bread with him.
Fun fact: to raise funds for the house, he went on a popular French radio game show and won money for Emmaus.
In 1954 he made news while on a radio station; he pleaded for the well-to-do to care for the city’s poor during an intensely cold winter. This call led to what is known as the “uprising of kindness” as people volunteered, donated over 500 million francs, and the homeless were given lodging in the countries vacant buildings.
To give a rundown of everything he was involved with is beyond the scope of this show- but the second half of the 20th century saw him traveling all over the world to speak up for those suffering. He wrote, “power is blind, and suffering is mute.” The Emmaus movement would thus seek to give an unconditional welcome to any, show an openness to the world, and raise awareness and engage with those powers who can help the poor.
A movie was made about him in 1955 and 1989- currently, a new film is scheduled to come out in the next year. Like so much with the famous Abbe Pierre- all the movies are in French. We might not have heard a lot about him in America (I have a few ideas why, but that’s for another time)
Today we remember one of the great Frenchmen of the 20th century- Abbe Pierre, who died on this day in 2007; he was 94 years old.
The last word for today comes from Matthew 25
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of January 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Frenchmen include Mr. French from A Family Affair, Ole Miss Tight End Rufus French, and Jim French (an American thoroughbred). He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who did not like that the English word Abbey was used for a world the other day. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.