Never Been So Blatantly Voiced Since Hitler

Die Presse (10/31/05)

By Anne-Catherine Simon

Theology. French Cardinal Lustiger on the Relationship of Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Astonishing was the reaction of French Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger to the words uttered by the Iranian President that Israel must be wiped off the map. One has not heard that kind of bold rhetoric for over sixty years - since Hitler, said the former Archbishop of Paris over the weekend during his talks with the press in Vienna. But perhaps it served its purpose in that the leaders of the Muslim countries should now express how they stand to this blatant statement.

Lustiger has been considered for years as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II, and due to his Jewish heritage it would have been a particular sensation. The popular as well as contentious church leader never failed to take decisive positions regarding political issues for example, when he used religion as an instrument for sharply criticizing the Iraqi war. To the question of the Christian foundation of the European Union, he responded by stating that Europe is not a religious entity. Therefore, the entry of Turkey is also possible, if that is what is wished for. Nonetheless, we cannot say that reason alone is sufficient enough to harbor a decision since memories of the past still play a role. The most important thing is to cleanse one’s memory.

Does Judaism Equal Israel?
The European Union connects Jews and Christians, says Lustiger. Frankly, Jews can identify themselves much better with the Europe of today which is no longer defined as purely Christian than with the Europe of the past. What he sees as a real problem is equating Judaism with Israel. The Jewish state and the universality of the mission: This tension is not resolvable.

Lustiger, who always confessed to his Jewish heritage (I am a Jew, and I will remain so), has committed himself for decades to dialogue between the two religions despite meeting with hostility from both sides. To Lustiger it is fully understandable that Pope Bendict XVI didn’t apologize in the Cologne synagogue for past injustices, as many had expected. That is something that has already happened. Dialogue has taken us already one step further. Now there is trust, respect, security and the freedom to say what one thinks as a believer. The Church has proven to the Jews that it is entirely honest.

Lustiger lectured at a conference Sunday on the Catholic Church and Judaism, organized by the Coordinating Committee for Christian-Jewish Cooperation and supported by the foundation, Pro Oriente. The conference was prompted by the 40th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate of the 2nd Vatican Council. In 1965 it brought a new comprehensive reappraisal of Judaism by the Roman Catholic Church. Among other things, the lasting bond with Judaism is honored, the condemnation of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus on the cross was repudiated and every form of anti-Semitism condemned. Is the relationship between Jews and Christians thus written out in full? The Cardinal doesn’t believe so: It is still a beginning.

On Lustiger: Jean Marie Lustiger was born in Paris in 1926 as the son of Polish Jews. His mother died in Auschwitz and he was raised by a Christian family in Orléans, France. In 1940 he converted to Catholicism. He became Archbishop of Orléans in 1979 and, two years later, Archbishop of Paris. In 1983 he was made Cardinal. In 1995 Lustiger was excluded from the celebrations commemorating the Holocaust because, as a christened Jew, he was perceived as a bad example for the Jewish youth and as a symbol of spiritual destruction of Judaism.