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Slum charity nun Emmanuelle dies

Soeur Emmanuelle - 3/3/2004
Soeur Emmanuelle dedicated her life to helping the poor

Sister Emmanuelle, a Belgian-born nun who dedicated her life to fighting poverty in poor countries, has died at the age of 99.

In the 1970s and 1980s, she devoted herself to helping poor children in the slums of the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

She focused on the health and education of children, often working with pregnant young girls.

She was often outspoken in questioning Vatican policy, especially in relation to contraception.

She died early on Monday at her home in the French southern town of Callian, one month short of her 100th birthday.

In her life memoir, published in August, she describes a youth spent dancing and flirting in 1920s Paris seeking "immediate pleasure".

But she wrote that she always felt her vocation calling her and in 1929 she took her religious vows.

She founded the Asmae-Association Soeur Emmanuelle in 1980 to fight poverty and homelessness in a number of countries, including Egypt, Sudan, the Philippines and India.

At the age of 63 she went to Cairo where she spent more than 20 years helping to build schools and clinics in the slums.

A spokesman for the Asmae-Association said she was not suffering from any illness when she died, but was tired.


A selection of your comments:

Sister Emmanuelle was a childhood friend of my mother, Mariette Buysse. When both studied at the Dames de Marie, in Brussels, Madeleine Cinquin was a mischievous redhead, and great fun. My mother, who was a rebel too, went to Louvains university and they did not meet again, except for a very kind letter for "my dear Mariette, so far away in Spain." Curiously, They shared the same upbringing with a similar result: two loving, free spirits. I hope the next generation will produce some people of the same stuff. As we say here, ˇOjalá!
Teresa D´Outreligne, Torrelodones, (Near Madrid) Spain

In the mid eighties I met Soeur Emmanuelle on one of the projects I was assigned to as a civil engineer in Cairo, Egypt. I was a young man starting my career with this international consultant firm working on what the locals called the "Zabbaleen" Project.

Soeur Emmanuelle must have been in her seventies when we first met; on site, at the shanty town where the "Garbage Collectors" of Cairo lived. There were kids running in bare feet on mounds of garbage, garbage they sorted and lived off. The whole place reeked.

Worse yet in the summer heat of the desert, dust was everywhere. The mixed smells of dust, burning garbage and pig pens filled the air and in my sweaty shirt, those sights and smells even for this local young man were sometimes unbearable.

Yet this seemingly frail woman, just when I thought she had enough for the day, with her skinny hand on my shoulder and a wrinkled smile on her face would lean on me and in her loving voice say "yallah" let's go. Almost dragging me up the hilly dirt roads inspecting my work and demanding answers as to when will I finish building those shelters she financed.

God bless her soul, this caring nun, she left her mark on my heart, for ever. Soeur Emmanuelle was a living proof of a living God watching over us, all of us.
Nagi (Nagui) Rizk, Lake Cowichan, British Columbia, Canada

Soeur Emmanuelle was such a sweet lady. She cared a lot about people, the environment, and so much more! My grandmother was a friend of hers and introduced me to Emmanuelle when I was in Europe. She was probably one of the nicest people I have ever met in my entire life. When I went to my grandmother's funeral, Emmanuelle was there. She was comforting me. It was very sweet of her!
Alexis Bradford, Henderson, United States of America

I served with sister Emmanuelle at Ezbet el Nakahal, she never ceased giving people the best of herself, and she urged us to fight ignorance as well as poverty. I met her in France in September 2007, she was shining like a saint. She was very happy remembering everything about Cairo's "Garbage City", she asked about all the people she knew: the garbage collectors, the school, the hospital. She spoke Arabic with me and was very happy.
Sister Maria, Cairo, Egypt

Summer of 2002: as a student, I went to work with her association in the Cairo slum where she had started off her retired life with the poorest of the poor. A life-changing experience. Sister Emmanuelle was quite right: I received so much more from the people I worked with than what I could ever give them in a lifetime. I met her on her 93rd birthday: her undying faith and bubbly energy were amazingly contagious. A wonderfully outspoken personality with those sharp blue eyes, she had the knack for kicking fate and negativity in the teeth, reminding us that human dignity and freedom go hand in hand. Her motto sums her up perfectly: Yalla!! (in Arabic: "Let's go!").
Geraldine, Paris, France

I was lucky enough to meet Sister Emmanuelle about 20 years ago when she gave a lecture in my town in France. She impressed me very much with her huge and simple faith. She was in love with Jesus and made us feel like we wanted to know that Jesus better. I asked her to sign a book I had just bought and she did. She touched my cheek and told me I was a nice girl. I felt blessed by it.
Val, France

Soeur Emmanuelle was my teacher at Notre Dame de Sion French High School in Istanbul-Turkey (grade 7). I learned a lot from her. She used to call me petite Diane, because that year there were three Dianas in the same class. God bless her soul.
Diana M. Balaban Bogosyan, Toronto-Canada

I met Soeur Emmanuelle in Cairo, in 1985, while I was working for Canada's International Development Research Center. I was immediately taken by her straight-forwardness, dynamism and energy. There was no wasting time, she looked for anyone that was willing to put in work or money to help the poorest of the poor. My daughter volunteered for her when she was 17 and went to teach in Cairo's "Zabbaleen City" (Garbage city). I had instructed my chauffeur to stay with my daughter till she finished her volunteer work, I noticed he could not stand the stench and used to leave my daughter alone and only return to pick her up. Soeur Emmanuelle was a shining beauty in all this ugliness and misery, and a ray of hope for all those left away by mankind. She has marked my life. I now volunteer in Armenia.
Antoine S. Terjanian, Ottawa - writing from Yeghegnadzor, Armenia





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