France: Funeral of Sister Emmanuelle Turned in Media Event

Source: FSSPX News


Sr. Emmanuelle, of the Order of Our Lady of Sion, passed away on Monday, October 20, at the age of 99 years. On Wednesday, October 22, a Requiem Mass presided over by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris and president of the French Bishops’ Conference, was celebrated in Paris Cathedral at 3:00 pm. That same morning, the funeral Mass took place in Callian (Var) with the utmost privacy. On Saturday, October 25, at 10:30 am, another celebration also took place in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, rue du Bac, in Paris, in accordance with her last wishes. Before the Requiem Mass, M. Trao Nguyen, President of the Association ASMAE founded by Sr. Emmanuelle, read the spiritual testament of the religious. Addressing her “so beloved friends”, Sister declared: “… I wish to address you a thank you bouncing up with gratitude for all you have done, and all you will still do, I know it, for the thousands of children in difficult situations all over the world. Thanks to you, they become happy citizens standing on their own two feet. The suffering child “to whom your heart is sensitive” reminds us of the expression of Pascal: God sensitive of heart. That is the wonder which, beyond any religious, political, cultural, or any other kind of convictions, unites us all in a beautiful harmony.”  It was signed from “Your Emmanuel, who keeps each and everyone of you in her heart.”

Two thousand seats had been reserved inside Paris Cathedral to accommodate the personalities in attendance. Present among them were Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic, and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac and his wife Bernadette, Gérard Larcher, President of the Senate, twelve members of the government, and Suzanne Moubarak, the wife of the President of Egypt. A gigantic portrait of Sister was placed on the right side of the altar, with a bouquet of white flowers at its feet. A sparse crowd followed the ceremony outside the cathedral on a big screen. The texts and songs had been chosen by Sister, who had said in her last will: “I chose canticles full of gaiety. Sing them joyfully and loudly!” The epistle of Saint Paul about charity was read in French by former government member Jacques Delors,  next it was read in Arabic by a Lebanese priest. After the Magnificat, chanted in French, a permanent deacon read the Gospel of the miraculous draught of fish according to St. John, and Cardinal André Vingt-Trois gave the homily.

Sr. Emmanuell had recorded a message in which she advertised her posthumous book Confessions of a Sister, released on October 23 by Flammarion publishing house. “When you hear this message, I will no longer be here. If I told my life, all my life, it was because I wanted to bear testimony to the fact that love is stronger than death. I confessed everything - the good and the not so good - and from where I now am, I can tell you that life never stops for those who know how to love.”


Born on November 16, 1908, in Brussels, Madeleine Cinquin (who became Sr. Emmanuelle) was the second of three children. In 1914, her father drowned under her very eyes. In 1929, she decided to join the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion founded by Théodore Ratisbonne. On May 1931, she took her vows and the name of Sr. Emmanuelle. She was appointed as a teacher of literature and philosophy, successively in Egypt, Turkey, and Tunisia. In 1971, at the age of 62 - the retirement age - she obtained the permission of her congregation to live among the ragmen of Cairo. She decided to settle in a hut in the slum of Ezbet El Nakhl, in the periphery of Cairo. She was to spend 22 years there. “I began by bringing them self-respect. If I came to share their lives, it meant that their lives was worth something. They had to feel they were human beings.” Sr. Sara, an Orthodox Coptic religious joined her, and they lived together for 18 years: “We never had any discussion about religion with Sara. I used to attend the daily Mass of a Catholic priest. From time to time Sara would come with me… At times, I would go with her [to the Orthodox Coptic church]… I never said to Sara ‘Why aren’t you Catholic?’ and Sara never asked me ‘Why aren’t you Orthodox?’ This was not even a problem for us.”

In the October 20 edition of Le Monde, Xavier Ternisien specified: “If the Copts from High Egypt were the majority, (Sr. Emmanuelle) also worked with Muslims and strove to bring about a rapprochement between the two communities. Her line of conduct was clear: no proselytism towards the Muslims, but an effort towards reciprocal understanding. On the door of her hut, she hung a cross and a crescent together with the motto: “God is love.”

In 1980, Sister, a frail figure clad in a gray coat and shod with sneakers, founded her association “The Friends of Sr. Emmanuelle” which, together with another association of support for her projects, would later become “Asmae-Association Sr. Emmanuelle” to help children in the world, from Egypt to Sudan, from Lebanon to the Philippines, and from India to Burkina Faso. The association is secular and apolitical. St. Emmanuel stated: “Each man has a sacred domain, which I do not have the right to enter: his religious and political convictions.” She wanted to be able to help people in trouble whatever their origin or their religion. In the ensuing years, Asmae-Association Sr. Emmanuelle turned into a professional matter, and became an NGO of international solidarity specializing in the development of children: Action for Disadvantaged Children, together with the Populations.”We are present in 8 countries on 3 continents: Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, the Philippines, Madagascar, India, Burkina Faso, and France. Almost thirty years after the foundation of the  association by Sr. Emmanuelle, the teams who took over have remained faithful to the standards of capacity to listen and of reciprocity which are at the basis of our action.”

Xavier Ternisien underlined that “Sr. Emmanuel did not hide her heterodox positions in moral matters. She expressed her admiration for Pope John Paul II  loudly and clearly; yet in her clinics, she had the pill given to young women worn out by pregnancies. She avoided saying publicly anything else than what the Church said,” she would specify. But it did not prevent her to admit calmly that she was favorable to the marriage of priests.”

In 1993, the superiors of the order called Sr. Emmanuel back to France “to rest.” She left Egypt, and “her friends, the ragmen” and went to France in spite of her desire to die in her slum of Cairo. Sister, aged 85, went to the retirement home of the Community of Our Lady of Sion in Le Var, and henceforth devoted most of her time to prayer and meditation. “But the elderly lady could not stand inaction,” Ternisien explained. “She discovered what she called ‘the moral and spiritual distress’ of her contemporaries. She wanted to bear witness by means of conferences and TV programs. Like old actors, she would regularly announce ‘her retirement’, ‘her silence’, her ‘last interview.’ Then she would come back into the limelight on the occasion of a book or to collect money.” All through her life, Sr. Emmanuelle never hesitated to use the media to broadcast her “revolts” in favor of the poorest in France or elsewhere, just like Abbé Pierre, who passed away at the beginning of 2007. Sr. Emmanuelle, who wanted to be neither “a rightist or a leftist,” published several books, among them Paradise is the Others (1995); Yalla the Young People (1997); Secrets of life (2000), Riches of Poverty (2001). Jacques Duquesne co-authored with Annabelle Cayrol a book of interviews with Sr. Emmanuelle released this past summer, I am a Hundred Years Old and I Would Like to Tell You (2008). Sister described herself as “revengeful” “quick-tempered” and “a little feminist.”

The Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, devoted to the conversion of Israel, was founded in 1843 by Fr. Theodore Ratisbonne, born in a non-practicing Jewish family, and a convert to Catholicism. From the beginning, Fr. Ratisbonne considered the foundation of a contemplative branch, added to the apostolic teaching communities. His younger brother Alphonse, converted by the Miraculous Medal in January, 1842, and ordained to the priesthood in 1848, joined him. Since the Second Vatican Council and the Declaration Nostra Ætate (1965), the houses of Our Lady of Sion aim at “helping Christians to become aware of the Jewish sources of their faith so as to accompany them in the discovery of Jesus-Christ”. They “affirm the riches of a multicultural world and by means of teaching, they have people acknowledge the universal dimension of Man.” -- No comment!

(Sources: AFP/Flammarion/ASMAE/France 2 TV channel/Le Monde/ NotreDamedeSion)