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France's Sister Andre, believed to have become the oldest person alive this week at the age of 118, said Tuesday she would now like to beat the record of oldest person ever and that work and caring for others had long kept her spry.
"People say that work kills, for me work kept me alive, I kept working until I was 108," the Catholic nun told reporters Tuesday in the tea-room of the hospice where she lives in the Mediterranean city Toulon.
Although she is now blind and gets around in a wheelchair, she used to care for other elderly people much younger than herself.
"People should help each other and love each other instead of hating. If we shared all that, things would be a lot better," Sister Andre said.
Fellow nun Sister Therese, almost 89, wheels her to mass in the hospice's little chapel each morning.
She said that Sister Andre had "a mission to serve others" and that "her deep faith helps her" keep going.
But the sister, long feted as the oldest European before the death of Japan's Kane Tanaka aged 119 left her the longest-lived person on Earth, is not above a little indulgence.
As Toulon mayor Hubert Falco told her that she was "an object of pride and an example to the whole world," she was making sure that he had safely stowed the chocolates and traditional Provence sweets that people had brought for her.
- 'Not nice being old' -
Born Lucile Randon in 1904 in Ales, also in southern France, Sister Andre's days are punctuated by prayer, mealtimes and visits from other residents and hospice workers -- as well as a steady flow of letters, almost all of which she responds to.
Last year, she even survived a Covid-19 infection, becoming a symbol of hope for people from around the world.
But she rejects requests for locks of hair or DNA samples.
"Only the good Lord knows" the secret of her longevity, she says with a smile.
While she is "proud" to be the world's oldest person, Sister Andre repeated on Tuesday that "it's not nice being old, because I used to like taking care of others, making children dance, and now I can't do that any more".
But she also has a record to beat in mind: that of Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 in Arles, southern France, aged 122 -- the oldest confirmed age reached by any human being so far.
While Sister Andre does suffer from her limitations "she prays a huge amount and rises above it all," said David Tavella, an activity leader at the hospice who has become her confidant.
She thinks to herself that Calment's record "is within reach, if she's going to stay on Earth, she might as well make it," he added.
Sister Andre's status as the oldest person alive has yet to be confirmed by Guinness World Records, and there is no official institution to bestow the title.
Although other people have come forward saying they are even older than Calment, their claims are difficult to verify because of limited record-keeping in much of the world even in the early 20th century.
But Sister Andre is indeed the oldest "by a long way" of the confirmed super-centenarians according to French longevity tracker Laurent Toussaint -- the next contender being a Polish woman aged 115.