Madeleine Cinquin was born in 1908 in Brussels of a French father and a Belgian mother.
At 21, she joined as a postulant the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion. When she took her vows two years later, she chose the name of Emmanuelle ("God with us" in Hebrew).
She was 99 when she died in 2008 in France.
Sister Emmanuelle used to love life. She was life. She fought for life.
Until the end of her life on earth, she fought for what she believed in: justice and human dignity. She found her strength in her love for God and her total trust in the power of life, in the ability of any human being to grow and to learn to love oneself and other persons.
She was driven by Hope. When she was over sixty, she decided to share the daily life of the rag-pickers of Cairo.
For fifteen years, she lived in the stinking waste, without water or electricity, with her Egyptian brothers and sisters. Facing malnutrition and serious illness, she struggled with them to implement development projects in the slums (schools, clinics, a waste recycling factory), and to change the demeaning way they were looked at by the society.
Her energy and her courage to face any problem were highly communicative.
Wherever she was – in the slums, on TV sets, in the quiet lounge of any embassy or in community halls –, she used to open hearts, to awaken consciences and to restore hope in our inner force. And thus she managed to convince the many persons who were willing to get involved in her actions.
In Geneva, the Swiss Association of Friends of Sister Emmanuelle was founded in 1979. In 1986, Michel Bittar, its president, had Sister Emmanuelle visit Sudan. When she discovered Khartoum, the capital, she was shocked: thousands of children were roaming in the streets. Having fled the civil war that was raging in the South, they were forgotten by all. Many of them were orphans. Sister Emmanuelle could have been afraid by the magnitude of the challenge. But as she used to say to her Swiss friends: "the obstacle gives material for action". And this was the beginning of a new struggle.
Today, this battle is still fought, by ASASE, in two of the poorest countries in the world: South Sudan and Haiti.
And that is also Sister Emmanuelle’s legacy: tenacity, loyalty.
And the intelligence of the heart, that enabled her to work hand in hand with trustworthy personalities. At the end of her life, Sister Emmanuelle saw her physical powers wane, but she knew that her friends would keep on doing the job. Her longtime friends in France, Belgium, Austria and Switzerland all adhere to her favourite saying:
«Crack the heart of a human being and you will find a sun.»
See also the article published in May 2020 by the magazine Choisir, from the Jesuits of French-speaking Switzerland:"Sister Emmanuelle's champaign"