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By Francis X. Rocca
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Jewish convert whose mother
died in the Auschwitz concentration camp before he rose to become the
Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, died Sunday (August 6) at the age of
80.
The cause of death was an undisclosed illness for which he had been
hospitalized since April. According to the French newspaper Le Figaro,
Lustiger suffered from cancer.
Born to Polish Jews in Paris in 1926, Lustiger converted to Roman
Catholicism in 1940, while living with a Catholic family in the city of
Orleans, where his parents had sent him after the German invasion of
France. His mother died in Auschwitz in 1943.
After studying literature at the Sorbonne, Lustiger entered the
seminary and became a priest in 1954. For 15 years, he was dedicated to
the spiritual needs of university students, first at the Sorbonne and
then as head of a training school for university chaplains.
In 1969, Lustiger became pastor of a church in a wealthy Paris
neighborhood, the 16th Arrondissment. Pope John Paul II made him bishop
of Orleans in 1979, and promoted him to archbishop of Paris in 1981,
where he served until 2005. Lustiger was made a cardinal in 1983.
As archbishop, Lustiger was a prominent advocate for
Christian-Jewish relations, accompanying John Paul on a visit to
Jerusalem in 2000, and helping settle a dispute over a convent of
Carmelite nuns at Auschwitz. Jewish leaders protested the presence of
the convent there until, at the cardinal’s suggestion, John Paul ordered
it moved in 1993.
Lustiger always said that he considered himself to have remained a
Jew despite his conversion, though some Jewish leaders pointedly
disagreed.
The cardinal was also active in other areas of interfaith relations,
and accompanied John Paul on a 2001 trip to Damascus, Syria, which
included the first papal visit to a mosque.
Often mentioned as a possible successor to John Paul, Lustiger was a
luminary of French culture, elected in 1995 to the august Academie
Francaise.
In a telegram of condolence to the current archbishop of Paris, Pope
Benedict XVI commemorated a “pastor zealous in the search for God and
the proclamation of the Gospel to the world,” particularly noting
Lustiger’s work with students and his efforts to “promote ever more
fraternal relations between Christians and Jews.”
A funeral mass will take place Friday (August 10) at Paris’
Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service

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