A New View Film Series: The Jewish Cardinal

A New View Film Series: The Jewish Cardinal

On January 19, 2017  “The Jewish Cardinal” played in Robertson Hall at Butler University.

[The following summary may contain spoilers.]

The film, part JewishCardinalPhoto1of the A New View Film Series, is a biography and documentary based on the life of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, who was born to Jewish parents, converted to Catholicism at the age of 13 and eventually joined the priesthood, serving as Archbishop of Paris from 1981 to 2005. The film, which picks up in 1979 shortly after Lustiger is made Archbishop of Orleans, raises interesting questions about the challenges of intersecting identities and intersecting faith traditions. All of us have multiple identities that intersect and contribute to our personal experiences. We have identities of gender religion, career, ethnicity, culture and so many more.

In the film Cardinal Jean-Marie struggles to integrate and reconcile his Jewish heritage and his Catholic conversion. This conflict between two faith traditions comes to a head when Lustiger is put in the middle of a negotiation over the departure from Auschwitz of Carmelite nuns who built a convent near the concentration camp. Everyone in his life pulls him one way or the other, testing his loyalties. His father fights with him because he sees Jean-Marie’s conversion to Catholicism as a betrayal and throughout the film most of the Jewish community JewishCardinalPhoto3ostracizes Jean-Marie. On the other side, the Catholic community also sees Jean-Marie as an outsider. At one point in the film a group of priests burst into Jean-Marie’s church and yell at him that he must condemn the Jews for murdering Jesus. Both sides, the Jewish community and the Catholic community, attempt to use Jean-Marie as a vehicle to gain influence with the other side and to secure their interests.

In the discussion that followed the film, community members began by discussing their own experiences visiting Auschwitz and comparing it to Jean-Marie’s visit shown in the film. Community members also discussed how the Catholic Church at the time of the film was trying to balance the issue of combating Communism and the issue of healing the wounds of the Jews from the Holocaust. Sometimes these two goals conflicted with one another and the Church had to decide where to draw the line and how to prioritize its goals.

JewishCardinalPhoto4Then the audience dived deeper into the issue of dual identities and reconciling faiths. Community members both critiqued and empathized with Jean-Marie’s experience and shared stories of their experiences of choosing a faith different from their family’s. The discussion raised the question of whether someone can be both Jewish and Catholic, and addressed the issue of binaries that we often see in society. These binaries are dangerous because they increasingly lead to an “us versus them” mentality, which creates an atmosphere of separation and intolerance. As Jean-Marie demonstrated throughout the film, we must learn to integrate our identities, and recognize their equal worth and influence in making us the individuals we wish to be. Further, within the pull of these sometime conflicting identities we have to recognize the commonalities we share, just as Jean-Marie did. When we achieve this integration and appreciation of each other and our identities, we will be closer to the peace and harmony we have been striving toward for generations.

Written by Elizabeth McGlone

Sponsored by The Desmond Tutu Center, Center for Interfaith Cooperation, and Butler University’s Amnesty International and Center for Faith and Vocation.

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