Monday, January 22, 2007

Abbé Pierre: Poverty Warrior Dies at 94

"We have lost a great figure, a conscience, an incarnation of goodness."

-French President Jacques Chirac

The Roman Catholic priest, Abbé Pierre, one of France's most popular figures has died. The leading social rights activist, who was 94, had been in hospitalised for just over a week ago with bronchitis. Often donning a beret and cape and clutching a cane, Abbe Pierre - a code name from his World War II resistance days - topped polls as France's most beloved public figure almost year after year.

His death was announced by President Jacques Chirac who described him as a "living legend", adding that France had lost "an immense figure, a conscience, a man who personified goodness."

- Born Henri Groues into a large and affluent family in Lyon, Abbé Pierre renounced wealth to campaign for more than half a century on behalf of the homeless and downtrodden.

- He entered the resistance in the Second World War, taking the name Abbé Pierre in 1942 as a cover for his work manufacturing fake identity papers and helping Jews cross the border to Switzerland. Elected to parliament after the war, in 1945, his devotion to the "street sleepers" was awakened. A lawmaker for seven years, until 1951, he occasionally begged alms while organizing rag pickers among the homeless so they could fend for themselves. With the help of an ex-convict and his lawmaker's salary, the first Emmaus Community house was born in 1949 in Neuilly-Plaisance, northeast of Paris. Emmaus, which helps the disenfranchised to help themselves, is now present in many countries.

"Abbé Pierre represented the spirit of rebellion against misery, suffering, injustice and the strength of solidarity."

- A quote from French President President Jacques Chirac, who awarded Abbé Pierre a higher order of the Legion of Honor (Grand Officier de la Legion d’Honneur)on April 19, 2001.

- He set up the Emmaus Community Foundation for the impoverished in 1949. It gained nationwide notoriety when he persuaded parliament to pass a still existing law which forbids landlords from expelling tenants during winter months. Well into his 90s, he continued to champion the causes close to his heart and will be remembered as a staunch defender of the homeless and the destitute.

- His campaigning for the homeless first achieved national attention in the winter of 1954 when an indignant Abbé Pierre issued a radio appeal to the public on behalf of the homeless, after a woman froze to death on a Paris boulevard clutching an eviction order.

- The priest freely admitted to using provocation as a tactical weapon in his war on misery. "I’m not by temperament a man of anger," he said in a 1994 interview with the Associated Press. "But when I must denounce something that destroys man, I get mad. It is love that engenders this holy anger. They are inseparable."

- The president of the French Muslim Council, Dalil Boubakeur, spoke of a deep sense of loss at the news of the death. "We would like to express our deepest respect and total admiration for the life of this man of God which was devoted to defending the powerless and the rights of the poorest to live with dignity," he said.

- In the Vatican, French cardinal Roger Ethchegaray said Abbé Pierre’s death "affects all of humanity for a simple reason: he never strayed from the cause, declaring war on poverty and putting first those who suffered the most."

- In France, he created his own Abbé Pierre Foundation in 1992.

- Abbé Pierre inspired the U.S. cooperative known as H.O.M.E. in Orland, Maine.

Sources: Euronews, TimesOnline

Related articles:

France's Voice of the Voiceless, TimeOnline

Abbé Pierre - champion of the homeless by Jo Siedlecka, Independent Catholic

Bloomberg News

Abbé Pierre speaks about death - In 2000, the Abbé Pierre had some conversations with a group of young children. These were recorded in a book, entitled: 'What is Life? Why Death? ... Explained to Children.'

Quixote "cities", CBS News; Associated Press story

Abbe Pierre, Adventus (blog)


Larry said...

Isn't it a shame that we don't have more people fignting for the poor instead of fighting for the rich.

Iddybud said...

We surely lost a great one.

Kevin Hayden said...

It's sad that so many do not know the name of people like Pierre.... or Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day... or others who are known best to a couple of generations then disappear into the mists of time.

Compare that to how many know of Donald Trump, Paris Hilton or others whose talents underwhelm and whose concerns remain insignificant.

As a cultural warrior, rather than knocking down that which appalls, I think it important to elevate more that - and those - I admire.

You are correct, we've lost a great one. Who else is great that we can honor by emulating and advertising?