Maybe you’ve heard the news that New York’s late Cardinal Archbishop John O’Connor was of Jewish descent. This news has had an unexpected impact on me, because lately I can’t stop thinking of a religious figure who has had a tremendous impact on my life: Aron Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, late Cardinal Archbishop of Paris.
Lustiger was a Jew, born into a Jewish family, who converted to Catholicism as a teenager, and never renounced his Jewish identity, to the contrary seeing his Christianity as its fulfillment. He was the quintessential “John Paul II” pastor (and he had a very close relationship with the Polish Pope), a happy warrior as well as a beacon of orthodoxy, and a great light to countless Parisian and French Catholics. He was nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for his leadership style, having been appointed by John Paul II after the ’70s, when the French episcopate was one of the most liberal to be found in Christendom, although he was also reviled by the disciples of Archbishop Lefebvre because of his Jewish roots. I had a wish that he would become Pope (take that, Malachy!), but by 2005 he was already visibly ill (and, some have told me, since Avignon a French Pope is a no-no)–not that I’ve been unhappy with the Holy Spirit’s picks!
And here is Card. Lustiger’s epitaph:
I was born Jewish.
I received the name
Of my paternal grandfather, Aaron
Having become Christian
By faith and by Baptism,
I have remained Jewish
As did the Apostles.
I have as my patron saints
Aaron the High Priest,
Saint John the Apostle,
Holy Mary full of grace.
Named 139th archbishop of Paris
by His Holiness Pope John Paul II,
I was enthroned in this Cathedral
on 27 February 1981,
And here I exercised my entire ministry.
Passers-by, pray for me.
† Aaron Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger
Archbishop of Paris
(The High Altar at Notre Dame. The Cross was commissioned by +Lustiger. CC photo by Wikipedia user Benchaum.)