And so it was with a woman called Sister Emmanuelle, a nun who became an icon in France for her commitment to the most impoverished in the slums of Cairo. She even lived there, established coalition to provide jobs and use of the neighborhoods most available resource -- animal manure -- to sell to the public as miraculous fertilizer ... no pun intended.
She stood alone initially, and prospered by faith and fortitude.
With the income from fertilizer sales, hospitals and schools were built. And the children without a future there found one, thanks to a simple nun with a heroic heart.
She reminds me of my mentor, the Rev. Joe Pat Breen, pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church in Nashville. Father Breen established a new Catholic church in Nashville by himself -- without help of the diocese -- for the most vulnerable and abused here. Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Nashville is now a beacon hope and faith, besides the largest Catholic church in Tennessee.
People such as Father Breen and Sister Emmanuelle see things as they are, not as strict Catholic doctrine demands it be. And the two seemed to agree on at least one issue of the poor that conflicted with Vatican policy.
Consider this passage from a New York Times profile:
Such energetic candor always characterized Sister Emmanuelle, who was known to favor allowing priests to marry, who was benignly indifferent to homosexuality and who wrote to Pope John Paul II in defense of the use of contraceptive pills, telling him about the slum-dwelling Egyptian girls who were marrying as young as 12 and having babies every year.
It was a characteristic that endeared her to the French; last year, Le Journal du Dimanche named her the nation’s fourth most popular person behind the former tennis player Yannick Noah, the soccer star Zinedine Zidane and the actress Mimie Mathy.
Father Breen has been a long-time advocate for married priests, because the flock needs shepherds who have time for their needs. And it needs more priests to bring those sheep that have strayed back to safety and love. For his compassion and honesty, however, Father Breen was silenced by the previous bishop in Nashville.
In salute to her, you can buy Sister Emmanuelle's new book, "Confessions of a Nun", published by Flammarion. It was released Friday following her recent death at 99 years of age.
In salute to someone such as her, you can still contribute to pay off the debt of Our Lady's that Father Breen has taken upon himself and his health at 73 years of age. Go to www.stedward.org to find out how to give.
Giving amid so much want distinguished Sister Emmanuelle and made her a saint among the French people and poor of Cairo. Tell her story at your church and in your household to encourage others to follow in her path to help the poor and their children among us help themselves.