Popular French campaigning priest dies

France's equivalent of Mother Teresa, a priest known as Abbe Pierre who was a member of the French Resistance during World War II and who became famous for his campaign against homelessness, will be buried with national honours after his death yesterday at 94.

Abbe Pierre's death was announced by President Jacques Chirac who said France had lost "an immense figure, a conscience, a man who personified goodness", RTE Ireland reports.

AdKronos International adds that tributes from across the political and religious spectrum poured in on Monday for the controversial veteran French campaigner for the homeless and downtrodden.

Born in 1912, the fifth child of a Lyon silk merchant, Henri-Antoine Groues gave up his family wealth to become a monk.

He took the nickname Abbe Pierre during World War II when he was a resistance chaplain and forged ID papers to smuggle Jewish refugees out of France.

He founded his first Emmaus community in 1949, an anti-poverty, self-help project where homeless people could collect, repair and resell second-hand furniture.

In the icy winter of 1953-54, he set up soup kitchens and persuaded authorities to open Metro stations for thousands of homeless people who risked freezing to death.

His actions that winter made him a household name.

In a 2005 book, Abbe Pierre admitted that he had broken his vow of celibacy "on rare occasions" and called for married and female priests in the Catholic Church.

"We have lost an immense figure, who showed the boundlessness of the human heart. France will not be the same without him," President Chirac said in a statement.

Paris mosque rector Dalil Boubakeur expressing "deep respect" described Abbe Pierre as "a man of God who was devoted to defending the humble."

"We join the national mourning for a great voice who so strongly expressed the revolt of the world's poor," Boubakeur added.

Paris's Socialist mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, described the priest as "one of the giants of contemporary France."

"His message and his legacy compels us to put the fight against homelessness at the heart of society, Delanoe added.

Homelessness has in recent months become a pressing issue in France, brought into stark focus by the protests of the "sans papier" or immigrants without documents, many of whom are homeless and who have occupied offices and public building to protest their plight.

In 2004, Abbe Pierre was named the most popular person in France in a poll conducted for the weekly Journal du Dimanche.

He campaigned tirelessly against homelessness for decades but in 1992, he turned down a Legion of Honour medal to protest at the government's refusal to make empty flats available to the homeless.

Photo source: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Abbe Pierre, 1994, usuarios.lycos.es

Homeless campaigner Abbé Pierre dies, aged 94
France: Late homelessness crusader garners tributes
French homeless campaigner dies
Emotion générale après la mort de l'abbé Pierre (France 2, 22/1/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Abbe Pierre - champion of the homeless
Abbe Pierre (Wikipedia)
Emmaus Community UK
Emmaus Movement International

Priest voted France's favourite again (CathNews, 19/8/03)


23 Jan 2007