Abbe Pierre lived a varied and remarkable life, he was frequently voted to be the most popular man in France. As a young man he spent several years in a Christian monastery, however he felt increasingly called to a more active role so left to become a parish priest. During the Second World war he fearlessly led an escape network in the French resistance, helping allied airmen and Jews to escape from the clutches of the occupying forces.
At the end of the second world war he briefly spent an ineffectual period in the French assembly. However he felt here he was making little impact so left and set up a charity to help the homeless. The charity Emmanus was set up to help those who found themselves homeless. Abbe Pierre was also a great believer in not just giving material aid to those in need but try to provide a situation where they could resolve their own personal problems. He felt the most effective charity was where the participant actively got involved to have a feeling of oneness with the disadvantaged and provide opportunities for their spiritual and emotional well being. For example one of the early workers in his charity was a former prisoner who had threatened to commit suicide because he felt life to be so fruitless. Abbe Pierre took the approach that if he felt his life was worthless he should dedicate it to helping others. By doing this he would gain a renewed sense of purpose and belief.
Because of his practical and genuine approach to alleviating the suffering of those who were disadvantaged he became remarkably popular, becoming the voice of the disposed and to some extent the consciousness of France. Abbe Pierre didn’t wish to be labelled from a political perspective. He always felt the highest calling was the spiritual life. However he was robust in his criticism of the far right and the anti immigration stance he took. Although a Catholic he was stringent in his criticism of several of their conservative principles. He was a natural rebel but ironically this made him popular with both the Catholic population and also those who agreed with his criticisms of his Catholicism. After his death their have already been moves to promote his canonisation. If this was to occur he would be an unusual Saint to say the least.
Revealingly he did admit to at times breaking his vow of chastity. Although he said these experiences did not give any satisfaction, he felt that they went against his nature and inner calling. However he did oppose chastity for priests.
He died aged 94 bequeathing a unique legacy of one of France’s best loved humanitarians.
Article by R. Pettinger. Richard has written several biographies for his website Biography online
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