Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Life Does Not End For Those Who Know How to Love"

Sent off by her expressed request from the small-town convent where she spent her last years, Paris came to a halt yesterday to commemorate Soeur Emmanuelle -- the "French Mother Teresa" who died Monday at 99.

Following her private funeral liturgy and burial at Callian in the country's southeast, the capital's Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois celebrated a nationally-televised memorial Mass in Notre-Dame, its high-watt congregation led by President Nicolas Sarkozy, his predecessor Jacques Chirac and -- in a tribute to the two decades the self-described "rag woman with the rag pickers" spent working among the poor in Cairo -- Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, as a crowd of thousands packed the square outside.
Her funeral came as her publisher released a transcript of a recording Sister Emmanuelle had made before her death to promote the last volume of her memoirs -- "Confessions of a Nun" -- written for publication after her death.

"When you hear this message, I will no longer be there. In telling of my life -- all of my life -- I wanted to bear witness that love is more powerful than death," she said, according to the text.

"I have confessed everything, the good and the less good, and I can tell you about it. Where I am now, life does not end for those who know how to love."...

[At Notre Dame,] Jacques Delors, the former president of the European Commission, was to read a passage on charity from the Epistle of Saint Paul in French, and a Lebanese priest the same passage in Arabic.

Sister Emmanuelle, who had been called Madeleine Cinquin before taking her vows, was best known in France for her frequent appearances on television to campaign passionately for the poor and homeless.

She came to media attention here with her work with some of the world's poorest people, the residents of the Ezbet El-Nakhl slum in Cairo who eke out a living by scavenging through the garbage produced in the huge Egyptian city.

The nun also won many French hearts with her straight talk and her defiance of Catholic orthodoxy by backing contraception and marriage for priests.

Cinquin was born into a comfortable middle-class home in Brussels, to a French father -- who died in a drowning incident that she witnessed when she was just six years old -- and a Belgian mother.
She led a carefree life as a young woman, which she later described in a memoir that recounted her years studying at university in 1920s Paris and dancing and flirting in her free time.

But at 23 she decided to become a nun in the Congregation of Notre Dame de Sion, an organisation originally set up with the aim of promoting the conversion of Jews to Christianity.

Taking the name Sister Emmanuelle, she went to teach literature in Turkey, where she came into contact with Jewish and Muslim intellectuals.

She taught in a school for well-off Turkish children but made a point of showing them the hardships of life by taking her classes to carry out sociological studies in poor areas.

She later continued her teaching career in Tunisia and then in Egypt.

In 1971, when she was 62 years old, Sister Emmanuelle finally got permission from her congregation to start work on her cherished project to go and live among Cairo's poorest people.

She set up schools, clinics and play areas for the children of Ezbet El-Nakhl and later published a book about her experiences.

The association she went on to set up in 1980 -- called the Asmae-Association Soeur Emmanuelle -- eventually extended its work for the poor to Brazil, Burkina Faso, Haiti, the Philippines, Senegal and Sudan.
At the Paris memorial, a separate message was read:
"Today, when you have once more taken the trouble for me, my soul and my heart are close to your soul and your heart. I want this dear meeting to go forward in joy," she said...

"I have chosen light-hearted hymns. Sing them joyously and will full voice. I want to give you thanks full of recognition for what you have done and what, I know, you will do again for thousands of children around the world.

"Yalla! Let's go," she declared, using the Arabic term she learned in Cairo.

An English-language French TV outlet features a video remembrance, including interview footage and moving B-roll.

Prepared in anticipation for her 100th birthday next month, Emmanuelle's memoirs are slated for release tomorrow.

AP/Francois Mori(1); Reuters(2)