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August 11, 2007

A Message of Tolerance

Jonas This picture ran in today's International Herald Tribune and many other newspapers, and it moved me deeply. It shows the great-nephew of Jean-Marie Lustiger, the esteemed Archbishop of Paris, placing dirt from Israel on the coffin of the archbishop, in front of Notre Dame de Paris, the cathedral where he was later laid to rest. The archbishop was born a Jew, and insisted on maintaining his Jewish identity throughout his life, despite his deep Catholic faith. Cardinal Lustiger, who wanted the Jewish prayer of mourning, the kadish, to be read at his funeral, sent a great, resounding message with his death, as he did with his life: tolerance is possible. Cultures, and faiths, can coexist. But there is something more personal here for me; Lustiger's great-nephew is Jonas Moses Lustiger, a young man I have known practically since he was born; in the background you see his sister, Laura, at one end, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the other. Jonas, 16, was selected to represent the Jewish side of the family at this funeral, which hosted not just the French president, but every imaginable Catholic dignitary short of the pope, ambassadors from around the world, and high officials from other faiths. This young man spoke eloquently, from his heart, about what Lustiger meant to him, as a Jew, as a Frenchman and as a human being. Jonas's mother, Gila, is a writer, as is his father, but they left the writing to Jonas himself. In this world where civilizations clash, cultures collide, religions aim their ideas, and then their weapons, this event sent out an enduring ripple of peace. I later spoke to Gila Lustiger, who read me the plaque that will be placed in the church, at the burial spot of Jean-Marie Lustiger. She said it reads, "I was born a Jew, and remained a Jew. I became Catholic through an act of faith, and was named Archbishop of Paris by Pope John Paul II." His name inscribed in the church includes his Jewish and Catholic names:  Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger.

Here's a bit more on Lustiger, from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: "Born Aaron Lustiger in Paris in 1926, he was the first child of secular Polish-Jewish émigrés. In 1940, he was sent with his sister to live with a Catholic woman following the German occupation of France. In August of that year, at age 13, he was baptized, adding Jean-Marie to his name. Lustiger was a central figure in Catholic-Jewish reconciliation efforts that characterized the tenure of Pope John Paul II, with whom he was close. He served as John Paul's representative at the commemoration ceremonies that marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 2005. As archbishop of Paris, Lustiger served as a diplomatic back-channel, relaying to the Vatican Jewish concerns regarding Catholic anti-Semitism and the building of a convent at the Auschwitz death camp."