The "Jewish" cardinal from Paris arrived here Monday to help launch an innovative weeklong program to teach French priests about Jewish life, New York style.
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Jewish-born Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris, delivered a 40-minute address about the future of Catholic-Jewish relations during a dinner sponsored by the World Jewish Congress attended by about 50 interfaith observers.
It was the launching of a program to give a group of 10 French clerics a taste of the complex and varied Jewish life of New York, from lectures at Yeshiva University (Orthodox), Hebrew Union College (Reform) and the 92nd Street Y to a meeting with chasidic leaders, to Sabbath services, to a lecture on Jewish messianic ideas by Brooklyn College Professor Rabbi David Berger.
During his speech Cardinal Lustiger, whose mother died in Auschwitz, outlined six points that should serve as the basis for future dialogue and joint action between Jewish and Catholic leaders, including human rights, moral issues such as genetic engineering, politics and the exercise of power, the challenges of modern rational criticism to faith, how to cope with pluralism and how to encounter other religions.
"All around the world, the intermixing of various populations now brings side by side very different religious faiths, and this leads to unprecedented confrontations," said the archbishop, who converted to Catholicism when he was 13 after his Polish-Jewish immigrant parents hid him in a Catholic boarding school during Germany’s occupation of France in 1940.
"Jews and Christians are the guardians of the revelation of the Only One God and of his design to bring all humans together one day," he said.
Noteworthy was his exclusion of Islam during his talk about Abrahamic faiths.
The cardinal cited three New York Jewish communities he visited last year ("homogeneous in their spiritual and practical choices") as models for how religion can successfully integrate modernity.
"Their fervor and strict observance obviously did not prevent the members of those communities from taking part actively in contemporary culture and modern life, insofar as they considered this compatible with their religious commitment," Cardinal Lustiger said.
"Those Jews have managed to offer an answer to the fundamental question that both Christian and Jewish communities have to face worldwide. This question is how to articulate the history and geography of our communities with the history and geography of modernity. Nowhere else perhaps than here in New York has a better answer been experienced."
Asked later by The Jewish Week to which communities he was referring, Cardinal Lustiger said "Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Lubavitch."
Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, which sponsored the French project, praised the cardinal for participating.
"We are embarking on a mission of friendship," said Singer, also the newly elected chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, the Jewish coalition group designated to dialogue with the Vatican. "This is not to be taken lightly."
As a gift, Singer gave Cardinal Lustiger a replica of a medieval Scroll of Esther and a music box.
As part of the continuing Jewish-Catholic discourse, next month the North American Boards of Rabbis will participate in a two-day dialogue in Paris with the leadership of the European Catholic Church, hosted by Cardinal Lustiger, to address the rise of anti-Semitism in France and throughout Europe.