France: much-loved Sister Emmanuelle has died

 France is mourning the death of Sister Emmanuelle, a nun who worked for many years among scavengers in Cairo's slums, who died yesterday aged 99.

A spokeswoman for her association, Sandrine de Carlo, said the Belgium-born nun died in her sleep at a retirement home in Callian, a town in southeastern France.

Sister Emmanuelle spent more than 20 years working with Cairo's zabbaleen, or garbage collectors, who survive through scavenging. She helped establish a network of clinics, schools and gardens to serve slum children. The association she founded now operates in eight countries, from Lebanon to Burkina Faso.

Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi s compared her to Mother Teresa, saying: aid: "She was a particularly significant personality of our time"

He said Sister Emmanuelle's character was "similar to that of Abbe Pierre and Mother Teresa, who had the ability to show how Christian charity can speak to all men."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of humanitarian aid group Medecins San Frontiers, 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," he said in a statement.

President Nicolas Sarkozy called her "a sister to us all."

"She was a woman of high convictions, but also one of action," Sarkozy said in a statement. "We miss her already."

Jewish and Muslim leaders in France also issued emotional statements about her passing.

Born Madeleine Cinquin in Brussels on 16 November, 1908, she spent her childhood in Belgium, France and England. A member of the Notre Dame de Sion order, she lived many years in France.

She moved to Egypt in the early 1970s and founded the association in 1980.

Sister Emmanuelle began in the Muqattam, a Cairo slum, founding a primary school and providing scavengers with vehicles to haul garbage. She went on to build schools, clinics, and income-generating strategies for the slum dwellers.

"She was living right among them, the garbage collectors, the pigs, the whole mess. I had never seen anything like this in my life," said Dr Mounir Neamatalla, who worked closely with her throughout the 1980s.

"You could see one of the worst qualities of life on the planet, but in this inferno was an enterprising population that worked like ants," he said.

Neamatalla worked with the nun on a composting plant to process the vast amounts of manure produced by the garbage collectors' pigs, which was then processed and sold as fertilizer.

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 under her gray veil and her eyes sparkling behind large glasses.

Association spokeswoman de Carlo said the funeral would be a strictly private affair but a public Mass in her memory will be held in Paris next month.

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