Sister Emmanuelle, a nun whose decades of service to scavengers in Cairo's slums and other needy causes won France's heart, died Monday, a spokeswoman for her association said. She was 99.
Sandrine de Carlo said the Belgium-born nun died in her sleep at a retirement home in Callian, a town in southeastern France. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders, said he would never forget Sister Emmanuelle's "faith, which could move mountains." "I will always remember the joy of working by her side, and will always keep that life-force which she infused in me," Kouchner said in a statement.
French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie hailed Sister Emmanuelle's unceasing "combat for justice and human dignity" and said in a statement the nun's "life and work should continue to inspire everyone's actions."
Sister Emmanuelle won wide acclaim in France through her more than two decades of work with Cairo's zabaleen, or garbage collectors, who eke out a living through scavenging. She helped create a network of clinics, schools and gardens to serve the children of the slums and later wrote about her experiences. Upon her return to France in 1993, Sister Emmanuelle continued to speak out for the needy, regularly appearing on French television, her white hair swept up into a gray habit and her eyes sparkling behind large glasses.
Born as Madeleine Cinquin in Brussels, on Nov. 16, 1908, she spent her childhood between the Belgian capital, Paris and London, according to the Association Sister Emmanuelle's Web site. A member of the Notre Dame de Sion order, she lived many years in France. Sister Emmanuelle passed away just weeks before her 100th birthday.
Association spokeswoman de Carlo said the nun's funeral would be a strictly private affair but a public mass will be held in her memory in Paris next month.