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Last Updated: Friday, 26 January 2007, 14:23 GMT
France pays homage to Abbe Pierre
Mourners pay their respects in front of Abbe Pierre's coffin at Val-de-Grace hospital church in Paris
Crowds of admirers gathered to mark Abbe Pierre's life
French leaders have paid their respects to priest Abbe Pierre, who championed the homeless, at his funeral ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

One of France's most revered figures, Abbe Pierre died on Monday, aged 94.

President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin were among the mourners at the ceremony.

The Roman Catholic priest was France's leading champion of the destitute and homeless, topping a national popularity poll year after year.

He is someone who woke up our conscience
Woman among crowd of mourners

Abbe Pierre will be buried in a private cemetery in the Normandy village of Esteville, on a day of "national homage".

The last Frenchman to be honoured in such a way was the environmentalist and inventor, Jacques Cousteau, in 1997.

Former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe were among the mourners at the funeral, as were cultural celebrities including Robert Hossein, Laetitia Hallyday, Jean Reno and Lambert Wilson.

Martin Hirsch, the head of the Emmaus organisation founded by Abbe Pierre, thanked mourners for coming.

Mourners outside Notre Dame
A crowd gathered outside the Paris cathedral

He said Abbe Pierre accepted a ceremony at Notre Dame not out of vanity, but because he hoped that by doing so "he would give additional strength to the battle with poverty and injustice that he embodied throughout his life".

Crowds of mourners watched the service on two giant screens erected outside the packed cathedral.

"He is someone who woke up our conscience," one woman said.

'Way of the heart'

Earlier mourners had paid their respects before his coffin in the 17th-Century Val-de-Grace church in Paris, beside the hospital where he died.

"Abbe Pierre showed us the way of the heart, of generosity, of the spirit of rebellion to help the most vulnerable," Mr Chirac said.

"His message must stay alive in each of us and it is up to all of us to follow it through."

Abbe Pierre was the codename he used - abbe is a title traditionally given to priests - during his work with the French Resistance, smuggling Jews out of occupied France during World War II.

Born Henri Groues, he founded the Emmaus association in 1953, and fought for a law to stop parliament expelling tenants during the winter months after a freezing spell hit the country.

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.

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