He Calls for Commitment to Poor and Immigrants

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NICE, France, DEC. 10, 2000 (
Europeans are behaving like spoiled children who have forgotten the anguish of those who do not enjoy the same good fortune, said Abbe Pierre, who has dedicated his life to the homeless.

The 88-year-old priest, one of the most beloved figures in France, seems indomitable, despite a faint voice and a fragile frame. He acknowledged that Europe has progressed in its commitment to the poor, at least verbally, but he said that much remains to be done.

The founder of Emmaus community was in Nice as a guest of St. Andrew´s community, a few kilometers from the headquarters of the summit of heads of state of the 15 European countries discussing the future.

European Union leaders last week endorsed a Charter of Fundamental Rights at the start of the summit, which was designed to prepare the 15-country bloc for enlargement. The charter upholds values like freedom of speech, religious freedom and equality — but it lacks legal force.

In Nice, Abbe Pierre was surrounded by his religious brothers, friends, supporters and labor union members who three days earlier took part in a «march for a social Europe.»

«Almost all of us are spoiled children, at least in this Europe that enjoys the privilege of good climate, fertile soil, opportunities for work that are unthinkable in other places,» Abbe Pierre said. «Precisely because of this, our duty is greater and more imperative, to welcome refugees, immigrants, and more generally, to be in solidarity with the needy, with those who do not have work. We cannot continue to ignore the phenomenon of immigration and social marginalization.»

The Abbe was reminded about the conclusions of the presidency of the European Council, which emphasized the determination to struggle against all forms of exclusion and discrimination, as well as to obtain full employment. He was also told about the European Union´s commitment to adopt «a more energetic policy in regard to the integration of newcomers from third countries,» in order that they enjoy «rights and duties comparable to those of citizens of the Union.»

Abbe Pierre smiled and said with a touch of irony: «It cannot be said better. Too bad there is an ocean between the saying and the doing. Until I have proof to the contrary, I continue to be skeptical about Europe´s real will to work generously in this respect.»

The first Emmaus community was established near Paris in 1951; at the time, it was known as the Community of the Emmaus Ragmen. Discarded paper and junk were among the means of survival of its members, in the same way that many poor around the world live today. Abbe Pierre promoted the integration of excluded peoples in every way possible, especially through community life. At present, Emmaus has 400 communities around the world.

President Jacques Chirac indicated that he would receive the Abbe in Paris in January. The Abbe noted that it might be a good opportunity to talk about the question of immigrants at length. Above all, he said, it should be an opportunity to «to finally change the Union´s barrier of police measures to humanitarian ones.»

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