Former French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger dead at age 80
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger's personal story was fascinating. He was a convert from Judaism, whose mother died in the German concentration camp Auschwitz. Having visited Auschwitz myself in 2000, I agree with the Cardinal's assessment of the place. Sixty years later death still hangs in the air at the concentration camp. The former Cardinal died of cancer on Sunday. RIP.
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Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, who was the son of a Holocaust victim and converted from Judaism to become France's most influential Catholic of recent decades, has died, church officials said today.
The 80-year-old bishop, whose Polish immigrant mother was killed at Auschwitz, died yesterday at a hospice in Paris, the archbishop of Paris's office said in a statement. He had been gravely ill for some months.
Born Aaron Lustiger in Paris in 1926, the cardinal converted to Catholicism at the age of 14 after being sent with his sister to the city of Orléans, south of Paris, to escape the occupying Nazis.
After ordination, in 1954, he rose to become archbishop of Paris, a post he held for 24 years before stepping down in 2005. In this role, he was the public face of the church in predominantly Catholic France, as well as a leading figure in interfaith relations.
A confidant of the late Pope John Paul II, whom he was at one point mooted to succeed, Cardinal Lustiger represented the pontiff at ceremonies in January 2005 marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
His mother's death was a subject the cardinal preferred to avoid. "I don't want to return, because it is a place of death and destruction," he told reporters at Auschwitz. "If I am going, it is because the Pope asked me."
Another rare public acknowledgement of his family history came in 1989, on France's national day of remembrance, when the cardinal took part in a reading of the names of French Jews killed during the war. When he came to that of Gisele Lustiger, he said, "my mother", and continued with the list.
He was also private about his conversion to Catholicism, but he did say in one collection of writings that this was never a source of anguish to him.
"Christianity is the fruit of Judaism," he said in The Choice of God, a book of conversations published in 1987. "For me, it was never for an instant a question of denying my Jewish identity. On the contrary."
Cardinal Lustiger announced in April 2007 that he was being treated for a "grave illness" at a Paris hospice.
A funeral mass will be said for him this Friday at the city's Notre Dame cathedral.