Jewish-born Cardinal Lustiger dies

Described by Pope Benedict as a "great figure" of the Church in France, retired Paris Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Jew who converted to Catholicism and whose Polish mother was a victim of Auschwitz, has died after a long illness.

The International Herald Tribune reports that Pope Benedict praised Cardinal Lustiger on Monday as an intellectual intent on improving relations between Christians and Jews.

Lustiger, who was 80, served as Paris archbishop for 24 years before stepping down in 2005.

The pope said in a telegram of condolences that he felt "great emotion" at news of the death of "this great figure of the church in France" and "lucid intellectual."

"A man of faith and of dialogue, he has dedicated himself generously to promoting more and more fraternal relations between Christians and Jews," Benedict said in his telegram, which was sent to Paris Archbishop Andre Vingt-Trois.

No cause of death was announced, according to The Guardian, but Lustiger had said in April that he was being treated for a "grave illness" at a hospice.

For years, Lustiger was the public face of the church in mainly Roman Catholic France, speaking out on critical issues and serving as a voice of calm in tumultuous times. He appeared to have perfectly synthesised his Jewish heritage with his chosen faith.

"Christianity is the fruit of Judaism," he once said.

"For me, it was never for an instant a question of denying my Jewish identity. On the contrary," he said in Le Choix de Dieu ("The Choice of God"), conversations published in 1987.

A confidante of the late Pope John Paul II, Lustiger represented the pontiff at January 2005 ceremonies for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where his mother died.

"I don't want to return because it is a place of death and destruction," said Lustiger, who had visited the camp before. "If I am going, it is because the pope asked me."

Lustiger never publicly addressed the tragedy of his mother Gisele. But during France's National Day of Remembrance to commemorate the deportation and death of French Jews during World War II, Lustiger, taking part in the reading of names in 1999, came to his mother's.

"Gisele Lustiger," he intoned, then added, "ma maman" (my mum), before continuing, Catholic World News reported.

"The strength of evil can only be answered with an even greater strength of love," Lustiger said at an August 2005 Mass in Lodz, Poland, in memory of the more than 200,000 Jews deported from there to Nazi death camps.

On 31 May, a wheelchair-bound Lustiger made an emotionally charged appearance at the Academie Francaise to say goodbye to his fellow "immortals", as the 40 members of the prestigious academy are known. The author of numerous books, Lustiger was made a member of the Academie Francaise in 1995.

A funeral Mass for Lustiger was to be held on Friday at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Paris archbishop's office said.

Pope: Lustiger was 'great figure' of French church, man of faith and dialogue (International Herald Tribune, 6/8/07)
French Cardinal Lustiger Dies (The Guardian, 6/8/07)
Cardinal Lustiger, Jew who converted to Catholicism, dies aged 80 (Haaretz, 6/8/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Lustiger (Wikipedia)

Priest uncovers Nazi killing fields in Ukraine (CathNews, 11/7/07)
Retirement of papal confidant Cardinal Lustiger (CathNews, 15/2/05)

7 Aug 2007