Having grown up with beloved Messianic Jews, it wasn’t hard for me to imagine such a thing as a Jewish cardinal, but I still found this movie fascinating. The Jewish Cardinal (2014) is an inspirational portrayal of Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger’s life. Lustiger (1926-2007) was the son of Polish Jews who became a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. As Rachel Saltz from the New York Times says, “It holds your interest, even if Jean-Marie remains what he must be to Mr. Cohen: an enticing puzzlement, his faith a mystery.” Although Aaron Lustiger grew up in an orthodox Jewish community, he found and fell in love with a Protestant Bible, converting to Christianity at the age of 13. He considered Christianity to be God’s gracious fulfillment of Judaism and the New Testament to be the logical continuation and completion of the Old Testament (see Le Choix de Dieu [The Choice of God, 1987]). Even though Lustiger became a Catholic priest, he always described himself as a “fulfilled Jew” and remained proud of his Jewish roots despite the criticism his stand brought from many in both the Jewish and Catholic communities.
Aaron Jean-Marie was so outspoken against liberal theology, racism, and anti-Semitism that he earned the nickname “Bulldozer,” but he was also very warm and popular, using TV and radio programming to encourage faith, and he was deeply loved, particularly by the French youth. (In 1997, he organized a World Youth Day in Paris that was attended by more than a million people!) As a stalwart conservative voice in the Catholic church, he rose quickly within the ranks, becoming the Archbishop of Paris at 55 and a Cardinal at only 57. On becoming Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger 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, which he wrote himself in 2004, can be seen in the crypt of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and translates into English as follows:
“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.
I have as my patron saints
Aaron the High Priest,
Saint John the Apostle,
Holy Mary full of grace.
Named 139th archbishop of Paris
by His Holiness Pope John Paul II,
I was enthroned in this Cathedral
on 27 February 1981,
And here I exercised my entire ministry.
Passers-by, pray for me.”
—Aaron Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger
Archbishop of Paris “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13, ESV…a modern version of the Protestant Bible he loved so well, although the verses are very much the same in Catholic Bibles.)