By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger’s life story is a natural for engaging people in Jewish-Catholic dialogue. That’s why “The Jewish Cardinal,” a documentary film/biography about him will be shown Sept. 28 at St. Ambrose University, Davenport.
The son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Jean-Marie (birth name Aaron) converted to Catholicism as a teenager during the Holocaust and went on to become a high-ranking prelate in the Roman Catholic Church. His mother died in a concentration camp and his father sought, unsuccessfully, to have Jean-Marie’s baptism annulled.
Those details set the stage for “The Jewish Cardinal,” and inspired the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, St. Ambrose University and the Davenport Diocese to organize a special screening and community conversation afterwards. The movie begins at 3 p.m. Father Joseph DeFrancisco, a St. Ambrose University theologian, and Rabbi Henry Karp of Temple Emanuel, Davenport, will lead discussion after the screening.
“Rabbi and Fr. Joe have worked together for many years … it should be an interesting and lively conversation,” said Allan Ross, the Jewish Federation’s executive director. Proceeds from ticket sales — $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and military personnel, free for students — will go toward supporting St. Ambrose University Campus Ministry service trips.
The Jewish Federation’s film committee chooses four films on Jewish topics to bring to the community each fall. “The Jewish Cardinal” was one of the better films they’d seen, Ross noted. “Because of the Jewish community’s relationship with St. Ambrose University — we do many programs together; I’m a graduate of St. Ambrose and my son is as well — I thought this would be a great opportunity to bring the movie to the university,” Ross added. “I think it’s important for students to see because it talks about the Holocaust, the various religions, and working together. I thought this was just a natural, that there’d be interest from the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.”
He spoke with Father Chuck Adam, Campus Ministry director at St. Ambrose, and Kent Ferris, director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities for the Davenport Diocese, who both endorsed the event.
“We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council (Nostra Aetate, Oct. 28, 1965),” Fr. Adam said. “It is such an important document. We have to make sure that it isn’t just words that remain in a document, that we are working together and that our interfaith dialogue truly continues.”
“As Fr. Chuck references the Church’s larger responsibility to have ongoing Catholic-Jewish dialogue, the Jewish Federation affords us the opportunity to do so locally,” Ferris said.
The film has received positive reviews since its release. Writer Rachel Saltz observes: “… it holds your interest, even if Jean-Marie remains what he must be to (screenwriter Ilan Duran) Cohen: an enticing puzzlement, his faith a mystery” (New York Times, April 10, 2014).
“It was a really, really good movie,” Ross said. Several times I choked up. It just brought home so many points I’ve thought about over the years. My father was a Holocaust survivor. Many of the issues that came up in the film were things I have been very familiar with. One of the biggest things is guilt – the guilt of the survivors.”
His father’s first wife, who was pregnant, and his father’s mother both were killed in the Majdanek concentration camp. His father didn’t talk much about that period in his life. But he is certain his father lived with a sense of guilt: how come he survived but his first wife and mother did not?
Ross thinks the movie fosters better relations between Jews and Catholics. “When Jews and Catholics work together, pray together, then good things happen.”