Jean-Marie Lustiger

Jean-Marie Lustiger

His Eminence
Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger
Cardinal, Archbishop emeritus of Paris
Lustiger in Notre Dame Cathedral, 15 August 1988
See Paris
Installed 31 January 1981
Term ended 11 February 2005 (retired)
Predecessor François Marty
Successor André Vingt-Trois
Other posts Bishop of Orléans (1979-1981)
Ordination 17 April 1954
by Bishop Émile-Arsène Blanchet
Consecration 8 December 1979
by Cardinal François Marty
Created Cardinal 2 February 1983
by John Paul II
Personal details
Birth name Aaron Lustiger
Born (1926-09-17)17 September 1926
Died 5 August 2007(2007-08-05) (aged 80)
Paris, France
Buried Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, Paris, France
Denomination Roman Catholic
Parents Charles & Gisèle Lustiger

Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger (French pronunciation: ; 17 September 1926 – 5 August 2007[1][2]) was a French cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He was Archbishop of Paris from 1981 until his resignation in 2005. He was created cardinal in 1983 by Pope John Paul II. His life is depicted in the 2013 film Le métis de Dieu (The Jewish Cardinal).


  • Life and work 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • Early career 1.2
    • Archbishop of Paris (1981–2005) 1.3
    • Theology and ethics 1.4
    • Relations with the Jewish world 1.5
    • Retirement and death 1.6
  • Awards 2
  • Auxiliaries 3
  • Published works 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Life and work

Early years

Lustiger was born Aaron Lustiger in Paris, to a Jewish family. His parents, Charles and Gisèle Lustiger, were Ashkenazi Jews from Będzin, Poland, and had left Poland around World War I.[2] Lustiger's father ran a hosiery shop. Aaron Lustiger studied at the Lycée Montaigne in Paris, where he first encountered anti-Semitism.[3][4] Visiting Germany in 1937, he was hosted by an anti-Nazi Protestant family whose children had been required to join the Hitler Youth.[2][5]

Sometime between the ages of ten and twelve, Lustiger came across a Protestant Bible and felt inexplicably attracted to it. On the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the family moved to Orléans.[2][5]

In March 1940, during Holy Week, the 13-year-old Lustiger decided to convert to Roman Catholicism. On 21 August he was baptized as Aaron Jean-Marie by the Bishop of Orléans, Jules Marie Courcoux. His sister converted later.[6] In October 1940, the Vichy regime passed the first Statute on Jews, which forced Jews to wear a yellow badge. Although Jean-Marie Lustiger lived hidden in Orléans, his parents had to wear the badge.[3]

Lustiger, his father and sister sought refuge in unoccupied southern France, while his mother returned to Paris to run the family business. In September 1942, his mother was deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where she died the following year. The surviving family returned to Paris after the war.[6] Lustiger's father tried unsuccessfully to have his son's baptism annulled, and even sought the help of the chief rabbi of Paris.[7]

Early career

Styles of
Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Paris (emeritus)

Lustiger graduated from the Sorbonne with a literature degree in 1946. He entered the seminary of the Carmelite fathers in Paris, and later the Institut Catholique de Paris. He first visited Israel in 1951. On 17 April 1954 he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Émile-Arsène Blanchet, rector of the Institut Catholique.[2] From 1954 to 1959, he was a chaplain at the Sorbonne.

For the next ten years, he was the director of Richelieu Centre, which trains university chaplains and counsels lay teachers and students of the grandes écoles, graduate schools such as the ÉNS-Fontenay-Saint-Cloud or the Ecole des Chartes.

From 1969 to 1979, Lustiger was vicar of the Parish of Sainte-Jeanne-de-Chantal, in the wealthy 16th arrondissement of Paris. His parochial vicar was André Vingt-Trois, who years later succeeded him as Archbishop of Paris.

On 10 November 1979, Lustiger was appointed Bishop of Orléans by Pope John Paul II after a 15-month vacancy.[2] John Paul had been advised by Cardinal Paolo Bertoli, who was displeased with a new illustrated Catechism for French urban youth (Pierres vivantes) and was on bad terms with most of the French clergy.[8]

Lustiger received his episcopal consecration on 8 December 1979 from Cardinal François Marty, with Archbishop Eugène Ernoult of Sens and Bishop Daniel Pézeril serving as co-consecrators. When installed as bishop, Lustiger avoided all reference to his liberal predecessor Guy-Marie Riobé, a pacifist close to Catholic Action.[2]

Archbishop of Paris (1981–2005)

Jean Marie Lustiger with Pope John Paul II in Bosnia, 1997; Cardinal Franjo Kuharić on right

He was promoted on 31 January 1981, to André Frossard.[2] Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the founder of the Traditionalist Catholic group Society of St. Pius X, criticized his nomination, complaining that the function was given to "someone who is not truly of French origin".[6] On the other hand, liberal French clergy considered Lustiger's nomination a defeat to them.[8]

Lustiger was considered a first-rate communicator and he was a personal friend of Jean Gélamur, head of the Catholic media group Bayard Presse.[8] The new archbishop was particularly attentive to the media; he developed Catholic radio and television channels (Radio Notre-Dame) after François Mitterrand's liberalization of French media in 1981. He founded KTO TV in 1999, which struggled financially.[1] Lustiger also founded a new seminary for training priests, by-passing the existing arrangements.

He was considered quite authoritarian, which earned him the nickname of "Bulldozer".[1][6] Lustiger deposed the vicars general Le Mans and Emile Marcus to Nantes, personally headed the meetings of the episcopal council, and made numerous other changes.[8] He dismantled P. Béguerie's team in Saint-Séverin.[8] In October 1981, the French bishops elected the more liberal Jean Vilnet as President of the Episcopal Conference, with whom Lustiger was on difficult terms throughout his life.[8] In 1982, he invited for the celebration of Lent in Notre-Dame Roger Etchegaray (whom he disliked at first) and the Jesuit Roger Heckel.[8] He participated in the annual meeting of the movement Comunione e Liberazione in Rimini in summer 1982.[8] In January 1983 he invited Cardinal Ratzinger to Notre-Dame de Paris, where the latter criticized new catechisms proposed by a large part of the French clergy.[8]

He was created Cardinal-Priest of Santi Marcellino e Pietro by Pope John Paul II in the consistory of 2 February 1983, at the same time as the Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac.[8] On 26 November 1994, he was named Cardinal-Priest of San Luigi dei Francesi. As a cardinal, Lustiger began to attract international attention. He was considered papabile, or eligible as pope. Some circles interpreted the Prophecy of Malachy in reference to him as a Jewish Pope.[8]

Lustiger carried out several reforms in the Archdiocese of Paris concerning priests' formation, creating in 1984 an independent theological faculty in the École cathédrale de Paris, distinct from the Institut Catholique. He constructed seven new churches in Paris. In addition, he supported the development of charismatic movements, such as the Emmanuel Community (of which he was in charge until June 2006) and the Chemin Neuf Community. The latter was recognized in 1984 by the Vatican as an International Association of the Faithful. Some parishes were entrusted to charismatic movements. In Paris, he ordained 200 priests; they represented 15 percent of the French total, and were drawn from a diocese which had two per cent of the French population.[5] Strongly attached to the ideal of priestly celibacy, Lustiger used his position as Ordinary for Orientals to prevent the deployment of married Eastern Rite Catholic priests in France. He favoured development of a permanent diaconate, to be filled mainly by married men involved in the workplace.

In 1984, Lustiger led a mass rally at Versailles in opposition to the Savary Law, which reduced state aid to private (which was mostly Catholic) education. He was seen to surpass his comrades Jean Vilnet, Paul Guiberteau and Jean Honoré, who were leaders on the issue.[8] Shortly afterwards Alain Savary had to resign. This opposition cemented Lustiger's relations with the groups supporting private education, from whose midst he was to draw most of his candidates for the priesthood. He supported the 1905 Law on the Separation of Church and State, but, when testifying before the Commission Stasi on secularism, he opposed the 2004 French law on secularity, which limited conspicuous religious symbols in schools.[9]

Lustiger had his right-hand man, André Vingt-Trois, appointed bishop in 1988. Following Marcel Lefebvre's schism in June 1988, Lustiger tried to reduce tensions with the Traditionalist Catholics, celebrating a Tridentine Mass,[8] and sending conservative priest Patrick Le Gal as his emissary to Lefebvre. [8] Along with Cardinal Albert Decourtray, he strongly criticised Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, clashing with the liberal bishop Jacques Gaillot.[8]

Beside his clerical contacts, Lustiger maintained contacts with the political world. he developed rather good working relations with François Mitterrand's Socialist government, despite their political disagreements.[8] during the celebrations of the second centenary of the French Revolution in 1989, he opposed Minister of Culture Jack Lang about the Pantheonization of the Abbé Grégoire, one of the first priests to take the oath on the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. For this, he was criticized by the liberal Catholic review Golias.[10] He deposed the priest Alain Maillard de La Morandais from his diplomatic functions toward the political sphere, as he considered him to be too pro-Balladur during the 1995 presidential campaign. [3] Despite his opposition to Mitterrand's governments, Lustiger presided as Archbishop of Paris over Mitterrand's funeral.

Lustiger's search for dialogue with politicians led to his founding in 1992 of the Centre Pastoral d'Etudes politiques at St. Clotilde church in the 7th arrondissement, close to the hub of the French establishment. He sought to identify and conciliate rising national élites in politics and communication. He was less amenable to initiatives from non-French Catholic groups or individuals (their position was inconclusively debated at the Diocesan Synod).

Relations with the cultural sphere were promoted by a series of Lenten Sermons at Notre-Dame (into which dialogue with prominent French intellectuals and state-employed academics were introduced) and by plans for the opening of the Centre St. Bernard in the 5th arrondissement.

Lustiger was never elected as head of the World Youth Day in Paris, attended by more than a million people.[6]

Theology and ethics

Lustiger upheld papal authority in AIDS patients.[8]

He considered Christianity to be the accomplishment of Judaism, and the New Testament to be the logical continuation of the Old Testament. In Le Choix de Dieu (The Choice of God, 1987), he declared that modern anti-Semitism was the product of the Enlightenment, whose philosophy he attacked.[3][8]

He read the Thomistic philosophers Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain—one of the main Catholic thinkers of his youth—as well as Jean Guitton, but also the Protestant philosopher Paul Ricœur, and Maurice Clavel, and the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.[8] Close to Augustinism, he preferred the post-conciliar theologian Louis Bouyer to the (pre-conciliar) neo-Thomist Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange.[8] His main influence was Henri de Lubac, as well as the Jesuits Albert and Paul Chapelle.[8] Lustiger, unlike other leading twentieth-century French bishops, did not draw noticeably on patristic writings and was more sensitive to rabbinic texts.

When appointed to Paris he encouraged some liberal clergy to return to the lay state. He was influential in the appointment of his moderate conciliar auxiliary See of Le Mans, replacing senior clergy with men who shared similar views to his own.

He pursued ecumenism but also gave a critical address of Anglicanism when welcoming Archbishop Robert Runcie to Notre Dame. In 1995, Lustiger played a key role in deposing the liberal bishop of Évreux, Jacques Gaillot, who was then transferred to the titular see of Partenia.

Lustiger was an outspoken opponent of racism and anti-Semitism. He was strongly critical of Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, comparing Le Pen's xenophobic views to Nazism. "We have known for 50 years that the theory of racial inequality can be deadly...It entails outrages", Lustiger said. "The Christian faith says that all men are equal in dignity because they are all created in the image of God". He supported the action of the parish priest of St. Bernard-de-la-Chapelle in accepting the protracted sit-in of a group of illegal aliens in 1996, but subsequently showed less sympathy to such activities. The police were called to a similar sit-in at St. Merry.

He incurred the hostility of some in the Spanish Church because he strongly opposed the project to canonise Queen Isabella I of Castile. In 1974, Pope Paul VI had opened her cause for beatification, which placed her on the path toward possible sainthood. Lustiger's opposition was due to the fact that Isabella and her husband Ferdinand of Aragon had expelled Jews from her domains in 1492.

Lustiger was a favorite of Pope John Paul II. He had a Polish background and staunchly upheld the Pope's conservative views in the face of much hostility from liberal Catholic opinion in France. This led to some speculation that Lustiger would be a candidate to succeed John Paul II, but he always refused to discuss any such possibility. He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Relations with the Jewish world

Along with Cardinal Francis Arinze[11] and Bishop Jean-Baptiste Gourion of Jerusalem, Lustiger was one of only three prelates of his time who were converts to the Roman Catholic faith; he and Gourion were the only two who were born Jewish and still considered themselves "Jewish" all their lives.[12][13] He said he was proud of his Jewish origins and described himself as a "fulfilled Jew", for which he was chastised by Christians and Jews alike. Former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau publicly denounced Lustiger. Lau accused Lustiger of betraying the Jewish people by converting to Catholicism.[14] Lustiger, who claimed that he was still a Jew, considered being "Jewish" as an ethnic designation and not exclusively a religious one. Lustiger's strong support for the State of Israel, which conflicts with the Vatican's officially neutral position, also won him Jewish support.

On becoming Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger said:

I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.

The former chief rabbi of France, Rabbi René Samuel Sirat, says he personally witnessed Lustiger entering the synagogue to recite kaddish—the Jewish mourners' prayer—for his mother.[15]

Cardinal Lustiger gained recognition after negotiating in 1987 with representatives of the organized Jewish community (including Théo Klein, the former president of the CRIF)[16] the departure of the Carmelite nuns who built a convent in Auschwitz concentration camp (see Auschwitz cross).[2][6] He represented Pope John Paul II in January 2005 during the 60th-year commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz camp by the Allies.[17] He was also in Birkenau along with the new Pope Benedict XVI in May 2006.[18]

In 1995, Cardinal Lustiger attended the reading of an act of repentance with a group of French rabbis, during which Catholic authorities apologized for the French Church's passive attitude towards the collaborationism policies enacted by the Vichy regime during World War II.[6]

In 1998, Lustiger was awarded the Nostra Aetate Award for advancing Catholic-Jewish relations by the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding, an interfaith group housed on the campus of Sacred Heart University, a Catholic university at Fairfield, Connecticut in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, protested the award, saying it was "inappropriate" to honor Lustiger, who was born a Jew but left the faith. "It's fine to have him speak at a conference or colloquium," said the league's national director Abraham Foxman. "But I don't think he should be honored because he converted out, which makes him a poor example." In France, however, Lustiger enjoyed good relations with the Jewish community. Théo Klein observed that although conversions usually carry out negative connotations in the Jewish world, it was not so with the Cardinal.[19] Klein called Lustiger "his cousin ."[16]

In 2006, Lustiger visited Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and addressed the students and faculty along with fellow visiting European bishops.

The World Jewish Congress paid homage to him after his death.[20]

Retirement and death

When Lustiger reached the age of 75 on 17 September 2001, he submitted his resignation as Archbishop of Paris to Pope John Paul II, as required by canon law. The Pope kept it on file for some years. But on 11 February 2005, Lustiger's resignation was accepted and André Vingt-Trois, a former auxiliary bishop of Paris who had become Archbishop of Tours, succeeded him as Archbishop of Paris.

Lustiger made his final public appearance in January 2007. He died on 5 August 2007 at a clinic outside Paris where he had been battling bone and lung cancer since April. Le Figaro, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, announced Lustiger's death.[6]

The funeral, presided over by Cardinal Lustiger's successor, was held at Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 August 2007. Sarkozy, on vacation in the United States, returned to attend Lustiger's funeral.[21][22] In homage to Lustiger's Jewish heritage, the Kaddish—the traditional hymn of praise of God's name—was recited by his cousin Arno Lustiger in front of the portal of the cathedral.[22]

His epitaph, which he wrote himself in 2004, can be seen in the crypt of Notre-Dame Cathedral, and translates as:

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



An incomplete list of bishops who served as auxiliaries in the Paris diocese under Cardinal Lustiger would include:

Published works


  1. ^ a b c Le cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger est mort, Le Monde, 5 August 2007 (French)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sophie de Ravinel, Le cardinal Lustiger est mort, Le Figaro, 5 August 2007 (French)
  3. ^ a b c d Henri Tincq, L'adieu à Jean-Marie Lustiger, Le Monde, 6 August 2007 (French)
  4. ^ Interview with the Israeli daily, Yediot Ahronoth, published in 1982 by the journal Le Débat (quoted by Sophie de Ravinel, Le cardinal Lustiger est mort, Le Figaro, 5 August 2007) (French)
  5. ^ a b c Cardinal Lustiger, The Telegraph, 7 August 2007 (English)
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i John Tagliabue, French Catholic leader, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, dies at 80, International Herald Tribune, 6 August 2007 (English)
  7. ^ Cardinal Lustiger, The Telegraph, 7 August 2007
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Christian Terras, Jean-Marie Lustiger : un colosse aux pieds d’argile, 6 August 2007 (French)
  9. ^ La Croix, 24 September 2003 (French)
  10. ^ Quand Mgr Lustiger corrige l’abbé Grégoire, Golias, 4 August 2006 (French)
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Archbishop's Israel visit prompts betrayal charges, 26 April, Reuters mirrored by Nizkor Project (English).
  15. ^ Daniel Ben Simon, 'He'd say kaddish for his mother', Haaretz, 7 August 2007 (English)
  16. ^ a b Théo Klein, Aaron-Jean-Marie Lustiger, mon cousin, Le Monde, 8 August 2007 (French)
  17. ^ Auschwitz : « Il n’est permis à personne de passer avec indifférence », Zenit, 27 January 2005 (French)
  18. ^ Auschwitz: Benoît XVI évoque d’emblée « les victimes de la terreur nazie », Zenit, 25 May 2006 (French)
  19. ^ Catherine Corroler, "Jean-Marie Lustiger, mort d'un cardinal d'action" in Libération, 6 August 2007 Read here (French)
  20. ^ Statement of the World Jewish Congress on the Death of French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, PRNewswire-USNewswire, 6 August 2007 (English)
  21. ^ Nicolas Sarkozy assistera aux obsèques du cardinal Lustiger, L'Express, 9 August 2007 (French)
  22. ^ a b Sarkozy present at Lustiger's funeral, Jerusalem Post, 10 August 2007 (English)
  23. ^ a b c Biographical notice of the Académie française (French)

External links

  • websiteInstitut
  • Biographical notice of the Académie française (includes texts by Lustiger) (French)
  • Cardinal Lustiger of France dies aged 80, The Guardian, 6 August 2007
  • , 7 August 2007The IndependentObituary,
  • , 8 August 2007The TimesObituary,
  • , 2 October 2007The GuardianObituary,
  • Intervention "L’Europe en quête de son identité culturelle" December 2005 (French)
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
François Marty
Archbishop of Paris
31 January 1981 – 11 February 2005
Succeeded by
André Vingt-Trois