“What an amazing path we have travelled, Jews and Catholics for more than half a century!”
Aaron Lustiger was born in Paris of Ashkenazi Jews from Będzin, Poland, in 1926. He studied at in Paris, where he first encountered anti-Semitism. Visiting Germany in 1937, he was hosted by an anti-Nazi Protestant family whose children had been required to join the Hitler Youth. 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.
In March 1940, during Holy Week, the 13-year old Lustiger decided to become a Roman Catholic. On 21 August he was baptized as Aaron Jean-Marie by the Bishop of Orléans, Jules Marie Courcoux. His sister also became a Catholic. 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 yellow star.
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. Lustiger’s father tried unsuccessfully to have his son’s baptism annulled, and even sought the help of the chief rabbi of Paris. He was Archbishop of Paris from 1981 until his resignation in 2005. He was created cardinal in 1983 by Pope John Paul II.
Lustiger always affirmed his Jewish identity, and his book La Promesse is a profound reflection on the nature of his call and ministry as a Jewish disciple of Yeshua and leader in the Catholic Church. He 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.
His epitaph in the crypt of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris reads:
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.
Lustiger spoke at a special conference to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Roman Catholic declaration that radically altered Catholic teaching on the Jewish people, renouncing anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, and seeing the Jewish people as ‘older brother’ and still part of the People of God.
Lustiger linked this it to the 60th anniversary of the arrival of Soviet troops to liberate Auschwitz. New forms of anti-Semitism lead to a renewed call to develop good Jewish-Christian relations today, say Lustiger, and the both Jews and Christians must recognize and respond to the challenge of bringing biblical revelation to a world that often feels distanced from its Jewish and Christian traditions.
“La position du peuple juif et des chrétiens en guetteurs et en témoins du règne de Dieu défie et relativise tout empire des hommes. Ensemble, juifs et chrétiens, ne sommes-nous pas responsables et redevables à l’humanité entière de cette raison politique ?”
(The position of the Jewish people and of Christians as watchmen and as witnesses of God’s kingdom challenges and relativises every human empire. Together, Jews and Christians, are we not responsible and accountable to all humanity on this political question?)
Prayer: Thankyou, Lord, for the great strides that have been made in re-uniting the Church with Israel through the Second Vatican Council and its declaration on the Jewish people. Thank you also for the life and teaching of Aaron Lustiger, a Catholic Jew who did so much to cleanse the Church of anti-Judaism and show to his people that as a believer in Yeshua he remained a Jew. May we as Messianic Jews be inspired by his example of faith, scholarship and gentleness to live and work alongside those for whom our existence is problematic, and may we continue to lovingly and graciously challenge both communities of faith to seek true repentance, reconciliation and restoration through your undying love. Amen.
Joshua Turnill, Yartzheit for the Cardinal, ISSUES VOLUME 17 NUMBER 4,http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/v17-n04/01