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“He was my protector.” Lucie Coutaz, Abbe Pierre’s traveling companion for four decades

Long forgotten, she was his secretary, but also his companion in his most famous and closest struggle. Biography Abbe Pierre, A Life of Struggle pays tribute to him in the form of Emmanuel Bercot.

“Without him, Emmaus would not exist,” declared Abbé Pierre. Without him, “Abbe Pierre” would not really exist either. The scene is depicted Abbe Pierre, A Life of StruggleFrédéric Tellier’s biopic with Benjamin Laverne in cinemas from November 8. When they met in 1943, in Lyon, Lucie Coutas and the monk we still know only as Henri Grues were participating in the resistance. He needs fake papers. it is he who offers to register this pseudonym, which he will never leave.

Lucy Coutaz will be Abbé Pierre’s rock, on whom he will rely for forty years. However, few people remember the woman who was the co-founder of the Emmaus movement. “Male figures tend to overshadow counterparts who are less in the spotlight,” says Frédéric Caba, director of social missions at the Abbe Pierre Foundation. However, their shared history is a unique alliance that has led to a system based on circular economy, collection, recovery. But also in the way we “make” the society with our differences.”

Lucy Kutaz’s character in oblivion was even absent from the film Winter 54, Abbe Pierre, by Dennis Amar (1989), starring Lambert Wilson. It is central to Frédéric Tellier in the form of Emmanuel Bercot; “She is a shadow woman in the full sense of the term and has done everything to make it so,” the actress declared. “His reserved nature and his modesty led him to this self-restraint, although he had the temperament of a leader.”

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Lucie Coutaz was born on May 9, 1899 in Grenoble and grew up in poverty. Memories that, unlike Abbé Pierre from a bourgeois family in Lyon, will never leave him and will contribute to his calling to help the most disadvantaged. At 16, the teenager was stricken with Pott’s disease, a paralysis of the spine due to tuberculosis. Plastered and corseted, she was forced to lie on a board from 1916 to 1921. At the age of 22, he made a pilgrimage to Lourdes and returned miraculously healed. Lucy Kutaz will never stop moving.

Typist, secretary, she was the first head of Christian associations in Grenoble. When World War II began, she officially became a social worker responsible for supporting low-income families. But also a resister whose role would be decisive in the region (in 1945 he would be awarded the Croix de Guerre). It is here that she begins to work with the man whose struggle and life she will share, if only in private.

Portrait of Lucie Coutaz in the room occupied by Abbé Pierre in the community of Emmaus in Esteville, Normandy. Motte Jules / Motte Jules/ABACA

working woman

After the war ended, Abbe Pierre “went” to Paris, where he was a priest. He invited Lucie Kutaz to join him there, but she was often away on the spot, busy with conferences and other meetings. When he tells her about his plans to become an MP, he replies: “I’m going home.” After all, he will do his first election campaign with him. But their greatest work would be the founding of the Emmaüs movement in 1951. Abbe Pierre has an idea, a vision. to greet the most deprived, those with nowhere to go, in the derelict building of Ney Plaisance, which he acquired and reprinted; To finance the operation, the restoration, repair and sale of facilities by the “companions” admitted there. Lucy Kutaz takes care of administrative, management and accounting tasks. “He was in ‘doing’, in implementation,” explains Frederic Caba. Lucy Kutaz’s approach was of the order of realism, with the fact of dealing with individuals, concepts, principles of reality. He is a solution finder who brings possibilities into the realm of possibility.” And whoever knows how to make his voice heard, if necessary, raise his voice in front of the abbot and companions.

Among the nicknames given to her by the latter are “Lulu The Terror” or “The Control Tower”. In Frédéric Tellier’s biography, his hero does not hesitate to insult the abbot when he loses himself in unrealistic projects or when the money runs out; Desmars, Honorary President of the Abbe Pierre Foundation, in: Paris game . He could even scare her at times. But he went every time so as not to break his face. He was one of the few who knew how to say no to him, who dared to bang his fist on the table. One of the few he actually listened to. He once said that what was done at Emmaus was often done against his advice… But always with his help.”

Shadow woman

In the winter of 1954, after his deathly cold and the memorable attraction broadcast by Abbé Pierre on the antennas of Radio-Luxembourg (later RTL), the latter became an icon. Using his charisma and eloquence to his cause, the religious becomes a star, a celebrity. Donations are pouring in. while Abbé Pierre continues to hold conferences and other public appearances to mobilize the masses, Lucie Coutaz works in the shadows; soon he was to manage the organization and overall management of the Emmaus communities and lodges. And also protect the abbot. In an interview available on the INA website, he recalls, with a smile, his way of keeping away the “groups” who got too close to him. me a little too much, he knew how to repel flies. He was extremely vigilant in protecting my virtue.’

And above all, he is the guardian of all that they have built. In 1958, after four years of traveling the world to develop Emmaus internationally, the exhausted Abbe Pierre collapsed; At age 46, the man, who had always been frail, spent twenty-two months in the hospital and underwent six operations between 1954 and 1958. Lucy. Kutaz still held the reins of the movement, which had become extensive, but now he had to deal with the bankers. “He was an extremely direct and active person,” explains Frederic Caba. She faced a man’s world. And whether it was by the underdogs or the bankers, he couldn’t be fooled. When Abbé Pierre disappeared from the scene, he had to protect what they had created together.” His disagreements, which he expressed with certainty, led to his being removed from the leadership of Emmaus for a time. A scene in the film shows the Abbe Pierre coming out of his seclusion, this time to fight for her so she can recover.

United couple

Although they did not, strictly speaking, have a love story, Abe Pierre and Lucie Coutaz formed a couple, a duo. “I have lived for 39 years, day and night, under the same roof, with the same problems, with the same happiness, etc.,” he says in an interview available on the INA website. “It didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, and it’s mysterious, there wasn’t a man-woman problem for a moment. I don’t believe his side more than mine.” But sharing a certain intimacy and unwavering loyalty is certain.

In Abbe Pierre, A Life of Struggle, we see them brushing their teeth in front of the same mirror in Neely-Plaisance. And in their old age they share a small apartment. This is perhaps the most moving sequence of the film. Abe Pierre and Lucie Coutaz, their backs bent, take a few steps in the courtyard of the HLM where they live, waking up to the freshness that seeps in, the tea they are about to share. cookies she ate them all. After heating up a box of ravioli, which she won’t touch, he helps her into bed. Gestures are slow, tender. “For me, it’s more of a duet than a couple, a word that has connotations,” emphasizes Frederic Caba. There was something deeply brotherly in them, in the first sense of the word. This scene says something about the value they placed on care; to care for the one who is near is to care for the one who is further away. This companionship that continues when we lose another, finding moments of sweetness at the end of life is also a form of commitment. In this scene, there is this overlap between their shared values ​​and the way they are implemented. »

Lucie Coutaz died on May 16, 1982 in Charenton-le-Pont under the care of her father Pierre. In a video available on the INA website, he pays tribute to him. “Even in those moments when I felt the agony of not having feminine tenderness very strongly, he was a ‘leader’.” He is buried in Esteville Cemetery, Normandy. Abbot Pierre died in 2007, twenty-five years into their struggle. It is next to him that he is buried by their desire. Forever together.

Source: Le Figaro

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