Friend of the Poor is no longer with Us

Yesterday, October 20th, Madeleine Cinquin, more popularly known as Soeur Emmanuelle, died at the age of 90 at a nursing home in Callian, France.

Soeur Emmanuel in the Slums of CairoSoeur Emmanuelle was a sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame de Sion. Most of her life she had been a philosophy teacher in France.

At 62 years of age, an age when most people are considering a gentle withdrawal from active life, Soeur Emmanuelle left France to teach in Cairo, Egypt where she discovered the rag-pickers, the poorest of Cairo’s poor.

The last thirty years of her life were spent working with and for the poor of the earth, in Cairo, Manila, Brazil and Burkina Fasso. Seeking independence from the ‘official’ Church, she founded an NGO, the Association of Soeur Emmanuelle to raise funds and recruit young people to work the poor. In this she was stunningly successful. She became France’s Mother Teresa, although she always shunned this implied comparison.

Soeur Emmanuelle was a tireless advocate for the poor. Given her training and her facility with language, she became a frequent guest on TV shows in France where her message was constant: we must be people of hope for the poor of the world. She did not spare us in her criticism of the consumerist society in which we live. Nor did she spare the Church either. She did not endear herself to the Church leadership in her vocal and public espousal of contraception as a strategy in the struggle against extreme poverty. She was a feminist whose radicalism blended a more conservative religious faith with full-on social justice commitments. Dorothy Day comes to mind.

Always and everywhere seek to be a healer. Be a sower of hope. In this way you nurture life and your love will make miracles happen.

See news report in today’s (October 21st) UK Daily Telegraph.

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