Jean-Marie Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris: Second Jewish Pope?  


France was stunned when Pope John Paul II named Jewish-born Jean-Marie Lustiger as archbishop of Paris. "You are the fruit of the Holy Father's prayer," the pontiff's secretary told him. Could it be that the cardinal-electors will now stun the world by choosing Lustiger as next pope, the first Jew to occupy St. Peter's See since Peter himself?

Lustiger, both whose parents died in Auschwitz, has always insisted that, though he had converted to Christianity at age 14, he was and remained a Jew: "I was born a Jew and so I am. For me, the vocation of Israel is to bring light to the goyim. That's my hope, and I believe Christianity is the means for achieving it."

There is a remarkable conversion dialectic in Lustiger's life. He had himself baptized because he was so impressed with the Catholic faith of his foster parents, who brought him up after his real parents had been deported from Paris in 1940. In return, Lustiger has made it his mission to convert -- or, rather, re-evangelize -- France and by extension Europe in an unorthodox way.

While a parish priest, Lustiger wrote a memorandum to archbishop of Paris, Cardinal François Marty. In it he proposed a revolutionary strategy for bringing Christianity back to France, once called the First Daughter of the Church. He insisted the church must abandon any pretense of power and convert culture instead.

As George Weigel, the pope's biographer, commented on this plan: "This meant taking the gospel straight to the molders and shapers of French high culture, the thoroughly secularized French intelligentsia. The hardest cases should be put first and France should be reconverted from the head down."

According to Weigel, Lustiger believes this memorandum must have found its way to the Vatican and contributed to his promotions to bishop of Orleans in 1979, archbishop of Paris in 1981 and cardinal in 1983.

If so, Lustiger's strategy is bearing fruit. No sooner did he ascend to the Paris See than he targeted intellectuals, preaching to them every Sunday evening at his cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris. This year -- more than two decades after he inaugurated this sermon series -- the influential Figaro newspaper ran an eight-part series about Christian intellectuals finally resurfacing in France after a very long internal exile: it simply wasn't considered chic to be a man or woman of faith.

In France, the rest of the country has always followed the intellectuals' path. It is now fashionable again, even for leftwing thinkers such as Regis Debré, Ché Guevara's companion, to speak of the need of religious instruction at school, though the government blocked the mention of God and Christianity in the draft of the new European constitution.

The French church, once an institution of immense power, has become a mission church, and her sisters in other part of the Continent are following her example. Indeed, that mission takes place chiefly in the once almost hopelessly secularized urban centers, where there are now first signs of a tender spiritual renewal.

That, too, was Lustiger's brainchild. Since Europe's conversion has top priority for the Catholic Church, the election of this formidable preacher and thinker is still a possibility, even though, at 77, he is no longer of an ideal age -- and though popular superstition holds the last pope will be of Jewish descent and call himself Peter II.

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