PARIS (Reuters) - France bade farewell to Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger on Friday in a ceremony that mixed prayers from his Jewish roots with the rites of the Roman Catholic Church, a faith to which he converted during World War Two.
A cousin of the late archbishop of Paris, Arno Lustiger, read the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead said in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, at the start of the ceremony outside Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris.
Another family relation, Jonas Moses-Lustiger, read Psalm 113 in Hebrew and French, a psalm of special significance to both Jews and Catholics.
A large crowd had gathered in silence under overcast skies in front of a packed cathedral.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy broke into his summer vacation in the United States to lead political figures at the service but was scheduled to return for a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush on Saturday.
Lustiger, who died from cancer on Sunday aged 80, was hidden in Catholic boarding schools during the 1940-1944 Nazi occupation of France and converted from Judaism during the war. His mother was arrested and died in the Auschwitz death camp.
Active in Christian student organisations after the war, Lustiger was a top theology student at the Catholic Institute in Paris. Ordained in 1954, he became known as a parish priest in Paris for hard-hitting sermons which were published as a book.
The son of Polish refugees, Lustiger was close to the late Pope John Paul II, who appointed him bishop of Orleans in 1979, and archbishop of Paris in 1981, one of the highest positions for a convert to the French Catholic church. Two years later, Lustiger became a cardinal.
Like John Paul, Lustiger opposed both ultra-traditionalists and the Marxist-leaning “New Left” within the church but also took a vigorous stand on social issues, speaking out for the right to employment and against the exclusion of immigrants.
Jewish religious and community leaders and dignitaries from other religions also attended the funeral, conducted by Lustiger’s successor as Archbishop of Paris, Andre Vingt-Trois, and a message from Pope Benedict was to be read out.
Lustiger’s coffin was borne into the cathedral by six priests and was to be laid to rest in the archbishop’s crypt at Notre Dame in line with tradition.
A casket containing earth from the Monastery of St Georges Kosiba near Jericho and the garden on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, was to be placed with his coffin.