President Jacques Chirac signed the decree conferring the award on Jan. 1.
Sister Emmanuelle, the 93-year-old religious of the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, was honored for her work among the poorest of the Egyptian capital. For more than 20 years she served the poor there and built schools and hospitals.
Born Madeleine Cinquin, she was orphaned in early adolescence. She entered religious life in 1931, took the name Emmanuelle, and began her apostolate by teaching philosophy and Turkish, Tunisian and Egyptian literature.
She returned to Paris in 1993, in obedience to her superiors who were concerned about her health. Her books and interviews continue to have great impact on French public opinion.