The death has been announced of Abbé Pierre, the Catholic priest who abandoned wealth to campaign for the homeless in France. He was 94.

His death was announced by President Jacques Chirac who said France had lost 'an immense figure, a conscience, a man who personified goodness'.

Abbé Pierre was passionately committed to caring for the outcasts of the affluent society and became one of France's most admired men.

Born in 1912, the fifth child of a Lyon silk merchant, Henri-Antoine Groues gave up his family wealth to become a monk.

He took the nickname Abbé Pierre during World War II when he was a resistance chaplain and forged ID papers to smuggle refugees out of France.

He founded his first Emmaus community in 1949, an anti-poverty, self-help project where homeless people could collect, repair and resell second-hand furniture.

In the icy winter of 1953-54, he set up soup kitchens and persuaded authorities to open Metro stations for thousands of homeless people who risked freezing to death.

His actions that winter made him a household name.

In a 2005 book, Abbé Pierre admitted that he had broken his vow of celibacy 'on rare occasions' and called for married and female priests in the Catholic Church.