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Cardinal Lustiger dies at 80 in Paris

Former French Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, smiles at the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica in this April 16, 2005 file photo. Lustiger, 80, died on August 4, 2007. REUTERS/Kimimasa Mayama/Files

PARIS (Reuters) - Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Jew who converted to Roman Catholicism and became archbishop of Paris, has died of cancer aged 80, the Paris archdiocese said on Sunday.

The son of Polish refugees, he was close to the late Pope John Paul II. His appointment as archbishop in 1981 gave him one of the highest ever positions for a convert to the French Catholic church.

“He had a notable role in our society and in the intellectual debates of our time,” the diocese said.

Like John Paul, Lustiger opposed both ultra-traditionalists and the Marxist-leaning “New Left” within the church.

He strove to revive enthusiasm in the church, which has suffered from dwindling membership, fewer candidates for priesthood and the closing of seminaries.

“France loses a great figure of our country’s spiritual, moral, intellectual and religious life,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement.

Lustiger’s funeral will be held on Friday at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.