27th October 2008

I am always intrigued by how the French deal with their mainly Catholic faith and the secular nature of the government. So it was interesting to see the reaction of locals to the death of Sister Emmanuelle who died last Monday at the age of 99. She was a Franco-Belgian nun, who like Mother Therese, was known for her work with the poor in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere around the world. In her last minutes on this earth, a representative from ASMAE, an aid organisation she founded, said that Emmanuelle spoke of being tired but was not suffering from any particular illness. She died in her sleep overnight - something we all wish for ourselves when the time comes.
It's amazing that more and more people are living to a hundred these days. Sister Emmanuel was born Madeleine Cinquin in Brussels on Nov. 16, 1908 to a French father and a Belgian mother and spent her childhood in Paris, London and Brussels. In 1931 at the age of 22 she took her vows to become a nun at the Notre Dame de Sion congregation, choosing the name Sister Emmanuelle, meaning "God is with us". In 1980, she founded ASMAE, an organisation she described as "secular and apolitical", to provide health and education assistance to poor children and their families. Today, ASMAE is active in nine countries worldwide. Noted in particular for her work with garbage workers in the slums of Cairo, in 1993 her superiors asked her to leave Egypt to retire to France. A mass will be given in her memory in Paris. No date has been set as of yet.
And yet the locals living near us are quite reticent about their own faith. Every so often our local hardware store starts stocking pots and pots of chrysanthemums, which the locals buy to make pilgrimages to the cemetery up the road from us. But never a word to anyone. We just see them quietly buying the plants and that's all. I must admit I do like this way of living: keeping your personal faith to yourself, praying quietly at home if that is your wish, but expecting the nation's government to keep its secularity at all times. Hear hear.

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