Le Bulldozer

The Achievement of Cardinal Lustiger

What is the fate-“grace,” some would say-that brings a fourteen-year-old named Aaron, grandson of a Polish rabbi and the son of humble French shopkeepers, to embrace Christianity with such profundity that he will one day die as the cardinal archbishop of Paris? The grace given to Cardinal Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger—and grace is the only word for it-was to discover his Judaism in his belief in Christ, and to do so with such conviction that it made him a prophetic witness, unique in his day, to both Judaism and Christianity.

I first knew I was dealing with a different sort of French bishop when I interviewed Lustiger (he died on August 5 at the age of eighty) for an article I was writing for Commonweal (“The Force of Cardinal Lustiger,” April 25, 1986). I had just spent Christmas at the Benedictine abbey of Bec-Hellouin in Normandy. (John Paul II had originally chosen Bec’s legendary abbot, Don Grammont, for the archbishopric of Paris, but Grammont, who was seriously ill, would not be coaxed away from his monastery, so the pope had to settle for his second choice.) When I told him I had been at Bec-Hellouin, Lustiger perked up and asked how my time there had been. “Wonderful,” I said, adding hesitantly, “except for a sign I saw on one of the towers informing observers, ‘This Property Belongs to the French State.’” Did Lustiger guess this was a test? Did I?

The cardinal looked at me quizzically and smiled,...

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About the Author

Steven Englund, a longtime Commonweal contributor, is the author of Napoleon: A Political Life (Harvard University Press), which won the American Historical Association’s J. Russell Major Prize. He is currently writing a comparative study of political anti-Semitism in Germany, Austria-Hungary, and France.