Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris died on Sunday evening, August 5 after a long battle with cancer. He was 80 years old. Cardinal Lustiger was a wonderful friend and mentor to me, and a great friend and supporter of World Youth Day 2002 and the Salt and Light Television Network.
Aaron Lustiger was born in 1926 to a Polish Jewish family. In 1937 he realized what the Nazi regime was all about and decided to become Catholic. His mother Gisèle was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943 and died there with millions of other Jews in the Holocaust. His father Charles refused to accept his son's new faith for many years.
I first met the Cardinal in 1980 when I was a young postulant (associate) teaching at the Basilian Collège du Sacré-Coeur in Annonay, France and he had just been named Bishop of Orléans in France after having served as a university chaplain in Paris before his appointment to Orléans.
In 1981 Pope John Paul II appointed Lustiger Archbishop of Paris and elevated him to Cardinalate in 1983. As I did my theological studies for priesthood, and then graduate studies in Sacred Scripture in Rome and Jerusalem, the Cardinal always kept in touch. In 1999 when the Bishops of Canada appointed me to World Youth Day 2002, our friendship took on a whole new dimension. He invited me travel to Paris later that month and walked me through the archives of World Youth Day 1997. We discussed many aspects of World Youth Day, and together with Bishop Michel Dubost (head of WYD 1997), we examined files, books, etc. to get an idea of the magnitude of the project.
Over the next two years, it happened that each time I was in Rome for meetings, Cardinal Lustiger was also there. We met each time and he offered me excellent advice on nearly every aspect of World Youth Day. Every bit of counsel he offered was not only helpful, but it proved to be true.
In May 2002, he had me travel to Paris and join him for the famous Sunday evening Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral. We "shared" the homily before a packed Cathedral of young people from throughout the "Ile de France."
I invited the Cardinal to come to Canada one week earlier than the WYD 2002 week in order to take part in the special young priests and seminarians' gathering at St. Peter's Seminary in London. The Cardinal was one of the keynote speakers at this significant international gathering.
In November 2002, I was a guest of the Cardinal in Paris and we discussed at length the new proposal of Salt and Light Television Network in Canada. The Cardinal had founded in Paris "Radio Notre Dame" and "KTO Catholic Television Network." He strongly urged me to accept the new challenge and promised the full cooperation with us of the French Catholic Radio and Television Networks. He kept his promise and the cooperation of KTO and Radio Notre Dame have been constant with us.
I will miss him and we at Salt and Light owe him a debt of gratitude for his interest, encouragement and wonderful collaboration with us. His life is a symbol of the inherent unity between Jews and Christians. I am confident that he will now intercede for all of us at Salt and Light Television, and will continue to reconcile Christians and Jews by giving us the courage, integrity and truth to work together for justice and peace.
Shalom Père Lustiger! Adieu Eminence! Merci beaucoup cher ami, pour ce précieux don de ton amitié fidèle et ton grand dévouement pendant ces 27 dernières années! Maintenant nous te demandons humblement, “prie pour nous.”
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Television Network