He has devoted his life to the homeless and the poor in and out of France.
Born Henry Grouès, 5 August 1912 in Lyon, enters the Capuchins in 1931 after giving away all his belongings, made priest in 1938. In 1941, helps Jews to escape the Nazi horror and becomes a member of the Resistance; captured by the German army, he finally escapes to Alger where he meets Général de Gaulle.
As soon as 1949, he welcomes homeless people at his place. This is the beginning of "Emmaüs". Winter 1954 is terribly cold and several homeless people die. The Abbé makes a speech on the french radio and asks 1 billion francs for the homeless: 3 weeks later 10 billion francs will be budgeted to build 12,000 lodgings for the poorest!
He keeps on fighting for the poor and the homeless during the following decades. In 1988, he creates the Fondation abbé Pierre pour le logement des Défavorisés. His action via Emmaüs covers 37 countries. He has been the best loved person in France for many years. L'Abbé Pierre left us on 22 January 2007, and is buried in Esteville.
Le Franciscain de Bourges
Alfred Stanke, the Franciscan of Bourges: monk, and German medical orderly, he helped and saved hundreds who were tortured during Wold War II in France.
Born Joseph Staniszewski, 25 October 1904 in Ohra, near Dantzig - now Gdańsk - in Poland, he enters the Franciscan Order in 1920. He is arrested by the Nazis with other monks in 1936, and impressed in the German army after Germany invaded Poland. He is sent to France, in Bourges jail, in 1940.
There he does everything to help the prisoners tortured by the Gestapo. He heals them the best he can, comforts them so they do not lose hope. He manages to avoid internment of many resistance fighters, helps prisoners communicate with the outside world and get freed. In 1944 he is transferred to Dijon and keeps on helping prisoners. Arrested a few months later, he is freed from the US jails thanks to the French people he helped.
After the war, he works for the reconciliation between France and Germany. Alfred Stanke has tragically died on 23 September 1975 and is buried near Bourges, in Saint-Doulchard cemetry. His action during the war is depicted in a book and a famous movie.
The Dalai Lama
Another great man of peace, spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born Lhamo Dhondrub, 6 July 1935, in a peasant family in Takster, Tibet. Aged 2, he is recognized as the reincarnation of his predecessor - Dalai Lamas are the manifestations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who reincarnate to serve the people, "Dalai Lama" meaning "Ocean of Wisdom".
He completes the Doctorate of Buddhist Philosophy with honours, and in 1950, he starts assuming political power in Tibet. But the country is threatened by China. In the 50s he meets Chinese & Indian leaders, but in 1959 he is forced into exile in India, in Dharamsala, after the Chinese invaded Tibet.
He appeals many times to the UN on the question of Tibet, and he has been working ever since to promote democracy, education, culture and religion to preserve Tibetan identity and restore fundamental human rights and freedoms.
He visits many countries all over the world and meets with many religious leaders, incuding Pope John Paul II, promoting better understanding and respect among the different faiths, and the importance of universal responsibility, love, compassion and kindness: "Universal responsibility is feeling for other people's suffering just as we feel our own. It is the realization that even our enemy is entirely motivated by the quest for happiness.". He is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
The South African archbishop has always fought the apartheid in his country.
Desmond Tutu was born 7 October 1931, in Klerksdorp, Transvaal. He first follows the steps of his father and becomes a teacher. Later on he studies theology, and is ordained priest in 1960. He spends several years in the UK, returns to Johannesburg in 1975, and from 1976 to 1978 is Bishop of Lesotho, and as of 1978 Secretary-General of the South African Council of Churches.
In 1976, the pupil and student rebellion begins in Soweto: he supports an economic boycott of his country and fights against apartheid, constantly preaching a reconciliation between both sides. In 1986 he becomes the first black person to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa.
He seeks "a democratic and just society without racial divisions", with equal civil rights for all, abolition of South African passport laws, a common system of education and the cessation of forced deportation from South Africa to the so-called "homelands".
After the fall of apartheid, he heads the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He still stands for fair causes, in and out of his country: he repeatedly calls upon the Israeli government to respect the human dignity of the Palestinian people - whether Muslim or Christian. He is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
John Paul II
His role in the evolution of Central and Eastern Europe towards freedom has been immense, his courage and will strength have been an example to the whole world.
Karol Wojtyła was born 18 May 1920 in Wadowice, in Poland. He lost his mother and elder brother when he was a child. He is studying in Cracow University and attending a school for drama months before the war breaks out and the Nazi forces close the university.
In 1942, he begins courses in the clandestine seminary of Cracow and at the same time participates in the "Rhapsodic Theatre", also clandestine. He is ordained priest in 1946 and is sent to Rome where he works under the guidance of a French Dominican. After finishing his doctorate in theology in 1948 he returns to Poland as a vicar and also as chaplain for the university students and then professor.
In 1958, he is appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cracow, in 1964, he is nominated Archbishop of Cracow, and Cardinal in 1967. After the death of Pope John Paul I, he is elected to the papacy, 16 October 1978, choosing the name of John Paul II. He is the first non italian Pope in 450 years.
In May 1981, he is shot and severely wounded but this attempt on his life strengthens his faith and courage. He forgives the man who shot him and visits him in jail 2 years later.
He regularly meets numerous government personalities and religious leaders. His goal is to promote peace, brotherhood and love. He has a major role in the democratization of Central and Eastern Europe. He is the first Pope to visit a Synagogue, a Mosque, he holds out his hand to the non-Catholic Christians and organizes inter-religion meetings in Assisi.
After having been called the athlete of God, Pope John Paul II has been suffering from various illnesses since the mid-90s, making his body weak but definitely neither his mind nor his heart! He leads the Catholic Church into the 3rd millennium, visits Jerusalem and asks Jews for forgiveness, always working to avoid war, criticizing the use of strength and the selfishness of rich nations.
Weakened by disease, he has died on 2 April 2005, with the same courage and the same spiritual high standards he had showed during his whole life. "Don't be afraid!"
During his 26 years Pontificate, John Paul II has published many documents, several books, he has presided numerous beatification and canonization ceremonies. He has completed 104 pastoral visits outside of Italy and 146 within Italy, visiting a total of 129 countries.
He has encountered more than 17.5 million pilgrims in the General Audiences in the Vatican, and more than 8 million pilgrims during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, not to mention the millions of faithful met during his pastoral visits throughout the world.
His "World Youth Days", in Rome, Buenos Aires (1987), Santiago de Compostela (1989), Czestochowa (1991), Denver (1993), Manila (1995), Paris (1997), Rome (2000) and Toronto (2002) have drawn millions and millions of young people, willing to make the world a better place and share their love. Everyone could witness that the crowds gathered during the different WYDs were among the largest ever seen on earth and the adults baptized filled with inner peace, joy and strength.
Photo © L'Osservatore Romano
His non-violence has won over armies, the proof that books and pencils can be stronger than guns.
Mohandas Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869, at Porbunder in north-west India in a rich merchant family. In 1883 he marries Kastur Ba and 5 years later leaves for London to study Law until 1891. He returns to India and practices in the High Court as Barrister.
In 1893, representing an Indian firm he travels to South Africa and experiences racism. The next year he founds the Natal Indian Congress to fight colour prejudice. In 1899, during the Boer War, he joins the Ambulance Corps, preaching self-denial and pacifism. He goes back to India, but in 1902 returns to South Africa to help Indians there, and in 1906 he starts the Passive Resistance Movement and is jailed several times. He nevers seeks to revenge on those who hurt him. He corresponds with Tolstoï and reads sacred books of different religions.
In 1915, he returns to India, and starts publishing various reviews. He joins the Indian National Congress and leads the independence movement. In 1922 he is jailed for 2 years; just released he fasts for Hindu-Muslim unity.
In 1930, he establishes the Civil Disobedience programme. He is followed by thoudands during the Salt March to the sea, to get salt without having to pay the Salt tax. He is jailed once again.
In 1942, after promoting a mass campaign of civil disobedience, he is again imprisoned but desperate by violence that accompanies mass protests. He would atone this violence by fasting and self-denial. The war over, England is about to grant India independence, but to Gandhi's distress dividing the country in two. He tours troubled areas of Bengal, Bihar & Delhi. Following the partition, over a million people die in the rioting.
Gandhi's aim had also been to bring together these divided religions of India. In his talks, he would quote widely from different religions to increase mutual understanding. In 1948 he says: "I do not wish to live if peace is not established in India and Pakistan". He is shot by a Hindu nationalist and dies 30 January 1948, but his action and message remain.
The woman who cared for the poorest of the poor.
She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, now Macedonia, 27 August 1910, her family being of Albanian descent. She feels strongly the call of God and at 18 she joins the Sisters of Loreto in Dublin. After a few months training she is sent to India, and in 1931 takes her initial vows as a nun.
From 1931 to 1948 she teaches in Calcutta, but the suffering and poverty she sees outside the convent upset her and she is allowed to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. She becomes their Mother.
Depending on Divine Providence she starts an open-air school for slum children. She is joined by voluntary helpers, and manages to get some financial support. In 1950, she receives permission from the Holy See to start her own order, "The Missionaries of Charity", whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after. The order contains several branches and is active in many countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, South and Central America but also in rich countries for the homeless and the sick.
She particularly tries to help the people who are about to die, so they do not die with no one at their side. As of 1955 she also takes care of lepers.
She continues her action until the day of her death, 6 September 1997. She received various high distinctions in India and the Peace Nobel Prize in 1979. She was beatified in 2003.
Martin Luther King
The man who fought non violently for black people rights, when segregation was the rule in the USA, the man "who had a dream".
Born Michael Luther King Jr on 15 January 1929, son and grand-son of Baptist pastors in Atlanta, he attends segregated public schools and high school in Georgia. He studies theology in Pennsylvania - where he is elected president of a predominantly white senior class - then completes a doctorate at Boston University where he marries Coretta Scott.
In 1954, he goes to Montgomery, Alabama. He is a member of the executive committee of the leading organization for civil rights equality and the following year he accepts the leadership of the first great Black nonviolent demonstration, the bus boycott, which lasts 382 days. In 1956, the Supreme Court declares unconstitutional the laws requiring segregation on buses. During the boycott, MLK is arrested, his house bombed, he is subjected to personal abuse, but he reaches his goal.
Between 1957 and 1968, he travels all over the country, giving hundreds of speeches, writing books and articles, fighting peacefully against injustice. He leads a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, directs the peaceful march of 250,000 persons on Washington where he delivers his famous "l Have a Dream". He is frequently arrested, assaulted several times, but he is now a world figure.
He is the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1964, and gives the prize money to the civil rights movement. On 4 April 1968, he is shot in Memphis, where he was to lead a protest march.
Loving and taking care of children and of the poor.
Marie-Madeleine Cinquin was born 16 November 1908 in Brussels, Belgium. She decides to devote herself to children, enters the Order of Our Lady of Sion in 1929, and takes her vows 2 years later. She teaches literature and philosophy in Istanbul, Tunis, Cairo and Alexandria.
In 1971, she retires from teaching and decides to help the poor: she goes to the slums of Cairo to live among the garbage collectors. Her joy is to help the poorest of the poor: she succeeds in building schools, kindergartens, houses, welfare centres, maternity hospitals, raising money throughout the world thanks to her endless touring efforts.
Aged 74, she decides to help other people, in Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, the Philippines... She creates the association "The friends of Sister Emmanuelle" which helps more than 60,000 children worldwide.
In 1993 she is called back to France by her order, and starts helping the homeless in the Riviera. She writes several books including "Heaven is the Others".
She says: "If you want to live, you must love!". Even in her 90s, she keeps helping others whenever she can!
In her own words: "Yalla Emmanuelle, move, stand up, go and meet the others, as your Pope: rest is for eternity.". She left us on 20 October 2008 in Callian, just weeks before turning 100.
On the following page are listed a few other persons, including artists and ex-fighters who one day decided to drop their weapons and move towards peace.