Retired Paris archbishop Lustiger dies

6th August 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 5, 2007 (AFP) - Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the retired Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, died in the French capital Sunday, aged 80, the government said.

PARIS, Aug 5, 2007 (AFP) - Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the retired Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, died in the French capital Sunday, aged 80, the government said.

He passed away in a medical clinic where he was admitted in April.

Lustiger was a storied and respected figure in France, having been born a Jew but converting during the Nazi occupation of World War II, and going on to become a gifted communicator for Catholicism.

He was made a prelate by the late pope John Paul II, and served as Paris archbishop from 1981 to his resignation in February 2005.

His death was announced at the end of a mass in a central Paris church, an attendee told AFP, and the website of the newspaper Le Figaro was the first to report it.

A funeral mass will be celebrated Friday at Paris's Notre Dame cathedral, the city's current archbishop, Andre Vingt-Trois, said in a statement.

In confirming the cardinal's death, the archbishop added that "the last few weeks were especially sad and painful" for Lustiger who suffered from an unspecified serious illness. The last time he was seen in public was in January.

There was some talk at one point that Lustiger could be a candidate to take over from John Paul as pope, but though he never attained that position, he remained a larger-than-life figure on France's religious scene.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his sadness at the cardinal's death, saying France had lost "a great figure of the spiritual, moral, intellectual and of course religious life of our country."

Originally named Aaron, he was born September 17, 1926 in Paris to a family of Polish Jews.

When World War II broke out, Lustiger and his sister Arlette were sent by their parents to safety in the central city of Orleans.

There, in 1940 and at age 14, he underwent a conversion in the cathedral of Orleans and was received into the Church later that year.

His mother Gisele ended up being deported and killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. For years, Lustiger's father Charles refused to accept his son's new faith.

At the end of the war, Lustiger began his studies in the liberal arts at the Sorbonne before entering the seminary. He was ordained a priest on April 17, 1954.

A militant for Christian causes during his days at the Sorbonne, Lustiger remained close to the university community until 1969, serving as chaplain for Paris universities and later at the Sorbonne.

After 10 years as leader of a parish in the French capital's posh 16th arrondissement, Pope John Paul II named him bishop of Orleans in December 1979.

Two years later, Lustiger became archbishop of Paris -- a post he would keep for 24 years. In 1983, he was made a cardinal.

He quickly became a media star, with both French and international news outlets praising his down-to-earth manner of speaking.

The Jewish-born Lustiger helped strengthen ties between the church and Jewish leaders, accompanying John Paul on his landmark trip to the Holy Land in 2000.

He also followed a conservative line similar to that of the late pontiff, saying a return to spirituality would help bolster the ranks of the priesthood.


Subject: French news

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