Monday, January 22, 2007

Fils Sans Un'Abbe

Word's come from Paris that the legendary French cleric Abbe Pierre has died at 94. A "tireless anti-poverty crusader and champion for the outcasts of society," the passage of the cleric viewed as a "national icon," who came in just behind Charles de Gaulle and Louis Pasteur in a 2006 poll of the "Greatest Frenchmen of All Time," has sparked tributes from the Elysee on down.
President Jacques Chirac said France had lost "an immense figure, a conscience, a man who personified goodness."

Abbe Pierre was admitted to a Paris hospital on January 14 suffering from bronchitis. He died at 5.25 a.m. (0425 GMT) on Monday after failing to recover from the lung infection.

The frail priest, who spent most of his life protecting people dumped on the margins of Western life, was little known outside France but was cherished at home as a modern-day saint.

"Abbe Pierre represented the spirit of rebellion against misery, suffering, injustice and the strength of solidarity," Chirac's statement said.

Born in 1912, Henri-Antoine Groues was the fifth child of a silk merchant but gave up his comfortable life to become a monk.

He took his nickname Abbe Pierre -- "abbe" is a traditional title for priests -- as a resistance chaplain during World War Two, when he forged ID papers to smuggle refugees out of France.

He began campaigning for the homeless in 1949 and shot to fame in 1954 when he went on air to demand shelter for thousands of people threatened with death during a bitterly cold winter.

His appeal set off a wave of sympathy, and his Emmaus chain of hostels for the homeless now covers 41 countries....
The national conscience of a country whose Catholic influence is said to be on the wane, the Abbe made world headlines in 2005 for sharing his thoughts, and his experience, on priestly celibacy:
Explaining that he had decided to devote his life to God and other people from an early age, he wrote: "I took a vow of chastity that didn't take away the power of desire and it has happened that I have given in to this in a transient way. But I have never had regular liaisons because I never let sexual desire take root.

"I felt that to be fully satisfied, sexual desire had to be expressed in a loving, tender and confident relationship while such a relationship was closed to me because of the choice I had made in life."

The cleric, who supports female ordination and the right of priests to marry, said he had not often yielded to temptation.

"I therefore have known such desire, and on rare occasions satisfied it, but in reality this satisfaction has been a real source of dissatisfaction because I felt I was not being true."

Jacky Naegelen/Reuters File