Cardinal Eugène Tisserant (1884-1972) was native of Nancy (France), and was recently recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” for his work on behalf of Jews during the Second World War. Now, he was the focus of a pilgrimage to Rome from December 2 to 8, 2023, organized by the Association of Friends of St. Nicholas of the Lorraines (a French national parish in Rome).
Pilgrims supporting this church near Piazza Navona took part in a Mass celebrated on December 6 at St. Louis of the French (another French national church) in the presence of Cardinal Paul Poupard, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and several French political figures.
Helping every human being
“For Cardinal Tisserant, every human being was of interest. He gave himself to helping human beings, whoever they were, except those with blood on their hands,” recalls his great-niece Paule Hennequin. Hennequin, who will soon be 87 years old, was the French cardinal’s housekeeper and private secretary from 1958 to 1972.
Tisserant served under six popes: Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI. After directing the Vatican Library and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Tisserant was one of the key figures of the Second Vatican Council as Dean of the Sacred College.
“During the war, he helped many Jews, as well as refugees from Eastern Europe. His motivation was not only religious, but human,” Paule Hennequin tells I.Media. As president of the Association of Friends of Cardinal Tisserant, she promotes the memory of her great-uncle, reminding us that, beyond his intellectual stature, he was a man of action, committed to the people.
“When he took charge of a suburbicarian diocese near Rome, his first concern was to help the people living under his jurisdiction — for example by setting up vacation camps for children who had nothing, assisting them, giving them food,” she explains.
She shared his daily life during the effervescent period of the Council, and witnessed his commitment to it. “He had avant-garde ideas: for example, as early as 1946, he advocated reform of the Curia. The Council did not bring about everything he would have liked,” she adds.
Relationship with Judaism
Cardinal Tisserant, who died in 1972, was recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by the Yad Vashem memorial in 2021. This distinction was added to the plaque dedicated to the cardinal’s memory in the church of St. Nicholas of the Lorraines, visited by the Lorraine delegation on December 6 in the presence of the French ambassador to the Holy See, Florence Mangin.
“For us Lorrains, who were deeply affected by the Second World War and the re-annexation of Moselle, it’s very flattering to have a figure be so respected for what he was, a man committed to justice and the protection of the weak,” says Gérard Longuet, a former government minister who was president of the Lorraine region from 1992 to 2004.
Also taking part in the trip, the Chief Rabbi of Metz and Moselle, Bruno Fiszon, paid a warm tribute to the promotion of the “Judeo-Christian roots” undertaken by this erudite cardinal. Indeed, Tisserant had studied the Talmudic tradition, in particular the texts of Rachi (1040-1105), a rabbi from Troyes who left his mark on the history of French Judaism.
Visits to a synagogue and the cardinal’s tomb
Against the backdrop of the current war between Israel and Hamas and the resurgence of anti-Semitism, this tribute to a cardinal recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” therefore took on a special significance. Welcoming the group on December 5 for a visit to the synagogue in Rome, Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni was particularly moved to receive a delegation of Catholics, according to one participant.
For the 2023 edition of this biennial pilgrimage, various Catholic and Jewish political and religious leaders from Lorraine joined the many benefactors of the church of St. Nicholas of the Lorraines. The week was punctuated by numerous events dedicated to Cardinal Tisserant. Among other things, the participants laid a wreath on his tomb in the cathedral of his diocese of Porto San Rufina (near Rome).
On December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, pilgrims attended Mass in the church of St. Louis of the French, before taking the reliquary of St. Nicholas in procession via Piazza Navona to the church of St. Nicholas of the Lorraines.