Cardinal Lustiger, R.I.P.GEORGE WEIGEL
Visitors to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris will soon be able to ponder a commemorative marker carrying this inscription:
+Aaron Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger,
In the early 1950s, two young men whose names would become familiar throughout the world attended the same political science lectures at the Sorbonne. One was the son of Polish-Jewish parents; the other came from Cambodia. One had lost his mother in Hitler's Holocaust; the other would ignite a holocaust. One had converted to Catholicism; the other had converted to Marxism. One would live to become the embodiment of humane, intellectually coherent religious faith, and thereby give hope to his people; the other would marry irrationality to viciousness, and his name would become a curse among his people.
We first met in Washington in 1986 or so, when he was visiting America with a group of young aides. After a formal session at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the cardinal and I fell into more informal conversation, and I asked him whether this was his first trip to the U.S.. Oh no, he answered, he had once hitchhiked across the country. I asked him when. "1968," he replied. I suggested that he might have chosen a more tranquil year.
Cardinal Lustiger was very helpful to me as I was preparing Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, and we stayed in touch over the years. Early in 2006, one of his assistants, Jean Duchesne, told me that the cardinal, quite ill with cancer, wanted to see me before he died, in order to share some memories of, and reflections on, the last years of John Paul II. We spent ninety minutes together in the cardinal's modest Paris apartment last December and had a conversation that I shall always remember for its Christian lucidity and tranquillity in thinking about death, in the very face of death. I asked for the cardinal's blessing as I left; I shall always cherish the memory of his hands on my head and his thin arms drawing me into a final embrace. Here was a man of God; here was a man. The first explained the second.
Like John Paul II, Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger believed that the biblical story—the story that begins with God's self-gift to the People of Israel and that continues in the Church—is in fact the story of humanity, rightly understood. The biblical story and the human story don't run on parallel tracks; the biblical story is the human story, read in its true depth. For Cardinal Lustiger, the "choice of God" (the title of one of his best-selling books) was also the choice for a genuine humanism, the choice for a life without fear of final oblivion—the fear that was one root of the lethally different choice his Cambodian classmate had made.
George Weigel. "Cardinal Lustiger, R.I.P." The Catholic Difference (September 19, 2007).
Reprinted with permission of George Weigel.
George Weigel's column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Phone: 303-715-3123.
George Weigel, a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Roman Catholic theologian and one of America's leading commentators on issues of religion and public life. Weigel is the author or editor of seventeen books, including God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (2005), The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (2005), Letters to a Young Catholic: The Art of Mentoring (2004), The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church (2002), and The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored (2001).
George Weigel's major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (Harper Collins, 1999) was published to international acclaim in 1999, and translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, Slovenian, Russian, and German. The 2001 documentary film based on the book won numerous prizes. George Weigel is a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News, and his weekly column, "The Catholic Difference," is syndicated to more than fifty newspapers around the United States.
Copyright © 2007 George Weigel
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