Birth of the Ragmen

Give back dignity through work to those who stumbled on the way.

“I had a place, I put up the Emmaüs sign, but we didn’t think back then that there will be other communities”, the Abbé Pierre remembers the beginning of the first Ragmen Community. This idea sprung from a discussion with a desperate person, as it is often the case with this man who’s always concerned about the others. “The origin of everything was my meeting with Georges, a parricide assassin who wanted to commit suicide. I get called and I say to him: your story is very sad but there’s nothing I can do for you, my MP wages are spent on helping families who live in cellars. Since you want to die, you are free, nothing can stop you. Well then, before killing yourself, come help me!” And Georges did.

And so, little by little, in France, Communities were born.

In Beauvais, in the winter of 1966, one of the residents remembers: “one morning we learn that fifteen men will settle down here to start an Emmaüs community. Some parish members met to prepare their arrival. We must provide everything; these men live in absolute destitution. We found them a place, the basement of the diocese; the storekeepers offered to feed them for the a few days, private individuals brought blankets, beds…”
When the few necessary arrangements were made, the men arrived. Some were very young, barely twenty years old, others are adults; their strong arms are their only means. Right away they get down to business; they collect objects and clothes that no one uses anymore. But to expand their work area, the other villages need to be informed concerning how Emmaüs – little-known at the time – works. Volunteers organise “evening conferences”. Jules, in charge of the little community, told their story at the town hall of Beauvais, talking about Abbé Pierre and his philosophy concerning solidarity. Little by little, the idea spread. And a few months later, in March 1967, during an event to gather iron and paper in an abandoned factory, everyone is stunned! On the appointed day, hundreds of tractors and other vehicles head to the factory to deposit the result of the general salvage action. Consequently, the companions will stay five months longer than originally planned to sort, fix and refurbish. And to set up in June an auction which will raise one million francs… a real fortune!
Part of this sum will finance an institute for disabled children, inaugurated in the 70s. And twenty years later, a Solidarity House, promised by the Prefect during Abbé Pierre’s visit to the town, will open its doors.