Recommended: The Jewish Cardinal,
French Film about a Polish Dilemma

Jewish Cardinal

The French title of this film is “Le Métis de Dieu,” meaning literally “God’s half-breed,” a much more powerful moniker than the English title “The Jewish Cardinal.” This astonishing drama is based on the life of Jean-Marie Lustiger, Archbishop of Orléans from 1981 to 2005, a Polish-born Jew who was convinced to convert to Catholicism as a child and then rose through the ranks in France from priest to cardinal while refusing to renounce his Jewishness. Along the way he, of course, makes enemies on both sides of the argument, culminating in his being called upon to mediate factions quarreling over the construction of a convent on the grounds of Auschwitz.

God’s half-breed is painfully aware of his own quandary, but it does not involved his faith or his understanding of history so much as it involves how he will handle the extremists—Polish, Catholic, Jewish, and French—who want to force him to take sides at every turn. Although he suffers internal conflicts, the most poignant of which is recalling his mother’s murder in Auschwitz, his friendship with Pope John Paul II becomes the stabilizing relationship in his life. The two are like loving brothers as they deal with Jewish attitudes toward Poland, “the country of our extermination,” and Polish attitudes toward Jews. “My father was right,” says Lustiger in frustration, “That country is crazy.”

First shown on French television in 2013, the film takes place in the years before the fall of communism in Poland, and the Pope’s determination to defeat the Godless doctrine guides his every decision. He is adamant that the ignorance of Poles over their own history is the result of the repressive communist system. The conversations in this film will raise eyebrows, but they will be lowered when the Pope says things to the Cardinal like “I am sure you like pierogi, Jean-Marie.” “Nobody could beat my mother’s,” he replies.

The one thing I found odd about all the discussion about Catholic and Jewish dogma was the absence of “Nostra Aetate,” the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in 1965. Surely these two highly educated men would have referred to this extraordinary document, which states, in part: “Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ–Abraham’s sons according to faith–are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles, making both one in Himself.”

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