A different kind of crowd gathered last night at Notre Dame de Paris – far different from the cynical lot portrayed in David’s famous painting of Napoleon crowning himself emperor of France. All the 1500 seats were filled and still more people spilled in, tourists, as well as devout Catholics to pay hommage to Paris’s recently deceased Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger.
I remember when Archbishop Lustiger’s picture first appeared on the cover of a major news magazine with headlines pronouncing Paris’s new Jewish Archbishop. Son of Polish Jewish immigrants, Lustiger converted to Catholicism at the age of 14. His parents were both deported to Auschwitz and there his mother died. His father returned to Paris.
An outspoken proponent on issues ranging from France’s National Front policies on immigration to maintaining celibacy vows for priests, he was one of the examples of how Paris is a city that can hardly be pigeonholed. Its residents are neither completely conservative or completely left wing, completely anti-Semitic, or completely xenophobic.
Although Archbishop Lustiger received some flak from Jewish spokespeople (including his parents) for converting while still calling himself Jewish, he never saw the conflict between his Jewish roots and his choice to become a Catholic priest.
The incredible turn-out of well-wishers for last night’s hommage certainly indicates that an individual who dares to live his life – the way he sees fit – has not lost the admiration of the populace.
Perhaps in the years to come, the history books will reserve special places for the men and women that have spent their lives with true conviction.
Planning on visiting Notre Dame? Archbishop Lustiger’s funeral will be held on Friday, August 10th, 2007. You may want to postpone your visit to Notre Dame for another day.