Saturday, August 4, 2012

An amazing woman

Everyone knows Mother Theresa and her incredible work with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. Her funeral was broadcasted on TV, a week after Princess Diana’s. But very few people have ever heard of Sister Emmanuelle—or Soeur Emmanuelle as she was called in France and in the MiddleEast where her volunteer work had paralleled the good deeds of Mother Theresa.

I read Sister Emmanuelle’s book recently. A book she wrote at the age of hundred! The title attracted me, I am 100 years old and I would like to tell you... In French: J’ai 100 ans et je voudrais vous dire... It’s a kind of memoir of her last years, the most interesting part of her life.
She was born in Belgium in a wealthy family, but she saw her father drown when she was only six years old. After studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, she entered the convent and dedicated herself to teaching in the same nuns’ school where I was educated. I never met her but heard about her much later.   

In her book, Soeur Emmanuelle explained how she was asked to retire from her active duty in the convent at the age of 75. Free to do as she pleased with her time, she traveled to Egypt and was appalled and touched by the poverty in certain parts of Cairo, particularly in the area where the trash collectors dwell, sorting through the garbage for something to eat. Horrified by the conditions she had witnessed, she decided to live among them, and remained in Cairo for twenty years. She raised money through various fundraising organizations and helped the trash collectors build a factory to process the waste. She also established schools and daycares in Sudan to educate the girls and prevent their families from giving them in marriage at eleven or twelve.

In addition to her charity work, Soeur Emmanuelle was known for her unorthodox religious views, her approval of using contraceptive and her notion that catholic priests should be allowed to marry. When she reached 95, her convent insisted she retire. The Belgium and French governments publicly honored her. She remained alert, writing nine books and fighting for justice and human dignity, until she died at 100 in her sleep, a few weeks after publishing this last book.

Her philosophy: To do everything with love.


Maddy said...

Well there's hope for us all in that case. And I couldn't agree more with her philosophy.

Unknown said...

I feel small and inadequate. The woman was amazing, and had the biggest heart of anyone I've ever heard of besides Mother Teresa. Thanks for sharing this, Mona.

Maggie Toussaint said...

what a strong, amazing woman, Mona. Thank you for bringing her to my attention.