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Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2007, 10:33 GMT
French homeless campaigner dies
Abbe Pierre
Abbe Pierre devoted his life to the cause of the homeless
France's leading champion of the destitute and homeless, Roman Catholic priest Abbe Pierre, has died aged 94.

The priest had been in hospital since 14 January and had succumbed to a lung infection, a spokesman said.

Born Henri Groues, Abbe Pierre devoted his life to supporting the homeless, founding the Emmaus hostel movement just after World War II.

He has long been one of France's most revered figures, and the Emmaus hostels can be found in dozens of countries.

Year after year, he came top in a French vote on the country's favourite personalities.

"We have lost an immense figure, a conscience, an incarnation of goodness," said French president Jacques Chirac.

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

Winter 1954

He became known as Abbe Pierre during his work with the French Resistance, smuggling Jews out of occupied France.

He founded the Emmaus movement in 1949, and in the 1950s fought for a law to stop parliament expelling tenants during the winter months after a freezing spell hit the country.

We have lost an immense figure, a conscience, an incarnation of goodness
Jacques Chirac
He demanded the nation act when he went on the radio in the winter of 1954, highlighting the case of a three-month-old baby who had frozen to death in inadequate housing and a woman who had died on the streets clutching an eviction order.

In the subsequent decades, he continued his tireless campaign for the destitute - and his hostels started to appear around the world in the 1970s.

Homelessness has in recent months again become a pressing issue in France - championed by a new generation of campaigners but with more than a nod to Abbe Pierre.

Last week, the French government announced plans to make housing a legally enforceable right following a "tent city" campaign along a canal in the capital, and the issue looks set to feature in forthcoming presidential elections.

Jewish anger

The priest also pushed the boundaries of conservative Catholicism.

He supported the ordination of women priests and said that male priests should be allowed to marry, implying in a book that he had had sex as a younger man.

There were also some career lows.

In the 1990s, he incurred the wrath of the American Jewish organisation, the Anti-Defamation League, for allegedly comparing the acts of the ancient Israelites to the Holocaust and downplaying the Nazis' crimes against the Jews.

The League decried Abbe Pierre's remarks as "insulting to both Jews and Catholics," and urged the Catholic Church to take action against him.

His defenders said he was seeking justice for the Palestinians and was not anti-Semitic.

French homeless join EU debate
25 May 05 |  Europe
French PM vows to help homeless
03 Jan 07 |  Europe

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