Death of the Conscience

Abbé PierreI just wanted to post a quick thought as I observe the mourning of the death of someone who many French people have been quoted as saying was France’s conscience: the Roman Catholic priest and advocate for the poor, Abbé Pierre.

I was talking to my Senior Bible class about the heroism of this man, and mentioned in particular his 1954 radio address to the nation calling for life-saving aid to the poor from the everyday people now.

What has struck me is that when you hear the people of France speak of l’abbé Pierre, it sounds like they’re talking about Jesus. Now of course, not a one of them mentions anything about God or Christianity (despite the fact that he was a priest, his motivation for helping the poor being spiritual in nature). In fact, here’s a quote from President Jacques Chirac (the language, of course, intentionally evokes the image of Christ by its employment of theologically-loaded language):

We have lost an immense figure, a conscience, an incarnation of goodness.
—(‘French homeless campaigner dies’ from the BBC)

What I’m wondering is, first of all, when will Christians start to realize that to live as Christ did is the best way to evangelize and make a difference in the world? and second, is the life of abbé Pierre actually going to make a difference in the public life of France (and perhaps Western Europe)? As I said, it was weird to hear people speak of this man in such an irreligious way. Is this cause for despair, or is his life a cause for hope for Christianity in Europe?