Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Abbé Pierre

The New York Times today published the obituary of Abbé Pierre, a famous Frenchman of whom most of us have never heard.

Abbé Pierre, who in the 1950s as a gaunt priest with a crook-handled cane and a profoundly persuasive passion mobilized France to attend to its homeless, then kept pressing his crusade until he became known as the country’s moral compass, died yesterday in Paris. He was 94.

The cause was complications of a respiratory infection, said Martin Hirsch, president of the organization Abbé Pierre founded, Emmaus.

“Friends! Help!” Abbé Pierre cried out during lunchtime news in the Paris studios of Radio Luxembourg on Feb. 1, 1954. It was a cruelly cold winter and the priest said a woman had been found frozen to death on the pavement of the Boulevard de Sebastopol clutching her eviction papers. He also told of a frozen baby.

Within minutes, volunteers began to appear at a relief center, and soon 200 people came with automobiles to search for more victims. Thousands of blankets, tons of clothes and millions of francs were donated. The government, which had previously turned down Abbé Pierre’s pleas for emergency housing, quickly promised 12,000 dwellings.
. . .
Television viewers in 2005 voted him the third greatest French person of all time, after de Gaulle and Pasteur.

You can read more here.