Blogroll Me! How This Old Brit Sees It ...: RIP Abbe Pierre : Our Planet Is A Poorer Place ...

22 January 2007

RIP Abbe Pierre : Our Planet Is A Poorer Place ...

This old Frenchman has died.

Though it's doubtful that many outside France will have heard much about him, or will even recognise him from his photo (left).

And that's a shame.

Since with this man's passing this planet and it's people are inarguably the poorer.

Here's an inkling as to what and who this hero was.

Abbe Pierre dies aged 94

The frail, stooped figure of Abbe Pierre, with his white beard, black beret, thick walking cane and mountain boots, was familiar all through France where, for four decades, he acted as the national conscience towards the homeless and the poor.
This man's religion is irrelevant - to us two at any rate. As we've long since severed all & any connections we may ever have had to/with any organised religion. And just for the record, even before we accepted as inevitable our personal 'conversion' to agnosticism, we were never Catholic Christians, as he was.

And it's well over half a century since we decided we'd forever judge men (and women), solely by their actions -- not by their words nor professed philosophy, neither by any prophets followed. After all, words were always ten a penny and talk has always been cheap.

So here we list just a few of this grand old man's actions over the years, along with a few other tid-bits about him -- and you'd better believe both of us when we say there are lots of them; years and actions.

Abbe's growing army collected huge amounts of secondhand furniture and household goods to finance cheap housing,

The Abbe, [was] a former Resistance leader and a member of the French Parliament from 1945 to 1951, was never taken in by flattery ... for nine years he refused to accept proffered appointment as a Grand Officier de la Legion d'Honneur in order to put pressure on the Government.


He continued to campaign into extreme old age, notably via his bestselling book, Dieu et les Hommes, a series of conversations with Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Medecins sans Frontieres and a former minister for humanitarian action in the Socialist Government.


Born in 1912, [named] Henri Groues was the son of the prosperous director of a Lyons silk company.

In 1931 he gave away his worldly goods and spent eight years with the Capuchins, being ordained on August 14, 1938.

An assistant priest at Grenoble Cathedral at the time of the 1940 armistice, he started to help Jews to cross the Alps to Switzerland.

On another occasion he carried Jacques de Gaulle, the paralysed brother of Charles de Gaulle who was being hunted by the Gestapo, across the barbed wire of the Swiss border and to safety in Geneva.

He ran a clandestine printing plant for false documents from his Grenoble home and organised the theft of arms from Italians occupying Grenoble.

... arrested by the Italians, [he] managed to escape and join the Maquis in the Vercors. He ran a clandestine newspaper and formed networks to help young men fleeing the German-imposed service du travail obligatoire ...

Abbe Pierre even risked going to Paris to run another clandestine printing works. He was held by the Gestapo at one time, but managed to escape.

For his wartime activities he was awarded the Resistance medal and the Croix de Guerre with palms.

... he himself begged in the streets of Paris to raise money for his so-called chiffonniers-bâtisseurs (ragpicker-builders).

In the terrible winter of 1954, when the homeless were dying in night-time temperatures of minus 15C (they included a baby who died in an abandoned bus), Abbe Pierre successfully mobilised newspapers and radio to badger the Government to revive the flagging post-war housing programme, and he persuaded the parliament to pass a law forbidding landlords to evict tenants during winter months.

For 40 years the Abbe also battled for better conditions in millions of homes. At one time, according to his estimate, five million people were badly housed in France, and he enjoyed considerable success in influencing government decisions to overhaul decaying social housing.


... he travelled widely and met many world leaders, from presidents and kings to religious leaders. On a visit to Argentina in 1963 he was shipwrecked on the River Plate and was initially reported to be dead.

In 2004 Abbe Pierre was appointed to the rank of Grand Croix de l'Ordre de la L'egion d'honneur, the highest distinction that the French State can bestow.

He continued to campaign almost up to his death, last year addressing the French parliament, from his wheelchair, on the importance of low-cost social housing.
Well, were we right?

Is our planet (plus it's people), the poorer for his passing?

It may help you more easily make up your mind, if you read the full report from today's London Times: Abbe Pierre -- August 5, 1912 - January 22, 2007

Bearing in mind that all men & women should be measured by individual actions, regardless of religion, race or anything else 'accident of birth' related.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a man is worth a dozen presidents, prime ministers and popes ~ combined.

RIP indeed.

2:56 am  
Blogger erdla said...

I was very sad to learn of his death.

It's often forgotten that there's a very radical message in Christianity. One that's very conveniently forgotten or perhaps it'd be more accurate to say hushed up.

Fortunately there'll always be people like him who not only say that injustice is wrong but who actually go and do something about it.

Not many people combine physical and moral courage but he did.

We're all the poorer for his passing.

PS: I am not a christian, in fact I was brought up as an atheist, but I am married to one. It's what people do about their beliefs that is important - not what they say.

I've printed this out I know Dubhaltach will want to read it when he gets back.

8:27 am  
Anonymous Lesley said...

Thank you for introducing this Canadian to this gentle, lovely and courageous man.

One person can make such an enormous difference in the lives of many and yet, in our world, there are too few like him. May his good works go on.

8:42 am  
Anonymous Alex said...

There ARE too few, Erdla.

But thankfully there are still plenty of others similar to him.

Though our powers that be don't want us to hear too much about them.

Radicals are 'trouble' - witness the fate of the carpenter from Nazareth's son. And now - over 2000 years later nothing's changed. If he (or ANYONE his equal) arrived here today it wouldn't be long before he'd be 'sorted out' too.

12:13 pm  
Anonymous martha said...

Thank you so much for this. What an example to us all.

Abbe Pierre obviously believed that -- as the English philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’

We would all do well never to forget that.

12:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen. Rest in Peace. Well done thou faithful servant.

12:28 pm  
Anonymous Tom V. said...

Thanks Richard to join the commemoration, and bring this exemplary man's story to our attention.

It makes one feel, like if he were a morally flawed dwarf in comparison.

We humans need to find a way to trully and radically break-out from our innate self-centeredness, in order to fulfill our secret mission in life and find true happiness by doing so.

Sounds so simple, yet it is so difficult. For most of us in our contemporary society and culture, sadly
"The bridge is too far."

12:41 pm  
Blogger bootlian said...

In a nutshell what the world needs (some countries more so than others) is less "me" and more "we". This man learned that at a very early age and for the rest of his (long) life always practised what he preached.

1:57 pm  
Blogger David Ehrenstein said...

Roland Barthes nailed this phony in Mythologies

2:16 pm  
Anonymous Phil said...

David Ehrenstein said...
Roland Barthes nailed this phony in Mythologies

What exactly does that mean in plain English?

Barthes and Mythologies ~ 50 years ago? He "nails" a "phony" ~ 50 years in advance of 50 years of a man's well documented good works? And you help spread this nonsense? So much for your own credibility.

Like others I know of, Barthes was way too big a smart arse for his own good. Surely you're not seriously talking 'phony' without including Barthes himself?


Mythologies is a text which is not one but plural. It contains fifty-four (only twenty-eight in the Annette Lavers's English translation) short journalistic articles on a variety of subjects. These texts were written between 1954 and 1956 for the left-wing magazine Les Lettres nouvelles and very clearly belong to Barthes's `période "journalistique"' (Calvet: 1973 p.37). They all have a brio and a punchy topicality typical of good journalism. Indeed, the fifty-four texts are best considered as opportunistic improvisations on relevant and up-to-the-minute issues rather than carefully considered theoretical essays.

I bet it took some digging and and carful selection ~ by a quick google ~ to travel back in time to find something like this. Why won't you research more before furthering a single intellectual's agenda ?

3:24 pm  
Anonymous rufus said...

I never heard of either man so I hit google myself. I think the abbe wins by a distance, to use a racing term.

5:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems the world has lost a great man. The shame is, most of us never had the good fortune to know of him until now.

6:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Richard for this piece on the Abbé Pierre. We are blessed to have had someone like him in France and even if the world is much poorer, his contribution in france has changed things, it changed perceptions, and it helped, at the beginning of the era of the new economy (1980s roughly) to raise the awareness of citizen to those who were laid off from their jobs and could not lead a normal life.

We are also blessed to have someone like him as a friend. He has the same background except he is a civilian missionary and is not bound by any vow to God except his own faith, is a long time friend of my husband, left all earthly goods and his personal fortune to raise abandoned children in Ecuador. I feel such a peace when in the presence of this man.

7:10 pm  

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