Jewish Cardinal of Paris

The following commentary was given by Scott Simon in NPR radio, Saturday morning August 11, 2007:

Eiffel tower“There used to be a joke in Paris, what is the difference between the chief rabbi in France and the Cardinal of Paris? The Cardinal speaks Yiddish!”

Jean Marie Cardinal Lustiger was buried yesterday; he died this week of cancer. He was born almost 81 years ago to Polish parents who ran a dress shop in Paris. When the German army marched in his parents sent him and his sister into hiding with a Catholic family in Orleans. Their mother was captured and sent to Auschwitz. .

Religious items

In 1999 as Cardinal of Paris, Jean Marie Lustiger took part in reading of the names of France’s day of remembrance of Jews who had been deported and murdered. He came to the name Gesele Lustiger, paused, teared and said, my mama.

The effect in France during a time of revived anti-Semitism was electric. He was just 13 and in hiding when he converted to Catholicism, not to escape the Nazis he always said, because no Jew could escape by conversion, and not of trauma, he said. Among his most controversial observations, I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many.

There were a great number of rabbi’s who consider his conversion a betrayal. Especially after so many European Jews had so narrowly escaped extinction. Cardinal Lustiger replied, to say that I am no longer a Jew, is like denying my father and mother, my grandfathers and grandmothers. I am as Jewish as all other members of my family that were butchered in Auschwitz and other camps.

He confessed to a biographer that he had a spiritual crisis in the 1970’s, provoked by persistent anti-Semitism in France. He studied Hebrew, and considered emigrating. He said I thought that I had finished what I had to do here, he explained and I might find new meaning in Israel. But just at that time the pope appointed him bishop of Orleans. He found purpose he said in the plight of immigrant workers. Then he was elevated to Cardinal. The Archbishop of Paris. Jean Marie Lustiger was close to the Pope. They shared a doctrinal conservatism. He also battled bigotry and totalitarianism.

For years Cardinal Lustiger’s name was among those who was considered to succeed John Paul. Without putting himself forth, the Cardinal joked that few things would bedevil bigots more than a Jewish Pope. They don’t like to admit it he said, but what Christians believe, they got – through Jews.

The funeral for Cardinal Lustiger began at Notre Dame Cathedral yesterday, with the chanting of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.”

Sometimes there are profound inconsistencies in our world

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