- Is the pope a Catholic? Not always
By Paul Heinrichs, April 17, 2005
Bears presumably still do their business in the woods - but is the Pope a Catholic? That time-honoured rhetorical question could be about to lose its factual foundation.
Paddy Power, the Irish online bookmaker framing odds on the papal election, has revealed a betting plunge on the former archbishop of Paris, Jewish-born Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.
Cardinal Lustiger, 78, is France's senior Catholic, a deeply spiritual man who had close ties to Pope John Paul II. If elected, he would be the first Jewish-born Christian to occupy the papal see since St Peter (originally named Simon), a precedent Cardinal Lustiger referred to during his Australian visit in 2001.
Asked then about his chances of becoming pope, he replied in the Yiddish vernacular: "Meshuga" - crazy!
Cardinal Lustiger, originally named Aaron, was born in Paris to a family of Polish Jews. His mother, Gisele, was deported and murdered in Auschwitz.
His parents sent him and his sister, Arlette, to safety in the French city of Orleans.
"Not for a minute will I ever forget the history that I represent," he said in June 1995.
Recently, he represented Pope John Paul II at the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
In 1940, aged 14, he underwent a conversion in the cathedral of Orleans, and was received into the church later that year. He was ordained a priest in 1954, became bishop of Orleans in 1979 and archbishop of Paris in 1981. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1983.
Cardinal Lustiger has always insisted that, although he had converted to Christianity, he remained a Jew. "I was born a Jew and so I am. For me, the vocation of Israel is to bring light to the goyim (the nations of gentiles). That's my hope, and I believe Christianity is the means for achieving it," he was reported as saying this month.
Even after he became a cardinal, he referred to himself as a "fulfilled Jew", telling writer Elie Wiesel that: "I feel Jewish. I refuse to renounce my roots, my Jewishness. How could I betray my mother's memory? It would be cowardly and humiliating."
Copyright © 2005. The Age Company Ltd.