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"Fulfilled Jews"

Some Jews who entered the Catholic Church

Click on a picture or name for the written conversion story.

Click here to go to audio or video recordings of other Catholic Jews' witness testimonies.

Click here to go to a long list of notable Jewish converts of the past and present








theodor

Hermann Cohen

World-Class Pianist and Protege of Liszt
Click for audio of:
Biography (35 min)
Homilies (extracts)(62 min)
Mass he composed (in honor of his Baptism) (32 min)

Auguste and Joseph Lemann

Jewish Twins who became Catholic Priests

Alphonse Ratisbonne

Jewish Aristocratic Banker who became Priest and Monk



Theodore Ratisbonne

Brother of Alphonse Priest and Monk

 (click here for a pdf file of his MemoirsIt is 9 meg, 70 pages so it may take awhile.)


Lustiger

 

Former Cardinal Archbishop of Paris

Charlie Rich

Hasidic Jew

Israel Zolli

Chief Rabbi of Rome

Ven. Francis Libermann

Priest, Religious Founder, Apostle to Africa




Arkes
 

Sister Mary Samuele

(Sonia Katzmann)

Holy Spirit Adoration Sister

The Lob (or Loeb) Family

Family biography #1 (pdf file)
Family biography # 2


Hadley Arkes


Professor of Jurisprudence at Amhearst College

Mortimer Adler


Philosopher




zuckerman

 

Raissa Maritain

Philospher,
Poet


Eric Zuckerman


Jesuit

Fr. Elias Friedman

OCD

Founder
Assoc. of Hebrew
 Catholics







Judy Bratten

Deacon Warren Hecht


Orthodox Brooklyn Jew now Catholic Deacon


Bernard Ellis


British Businessman






No Photos Available for the Following

Click on Name to Read Story

Sr. Miriam Rose of Jesus, OCD

Egyptian Jewess turned Carmelite Nun

"S.R."

Israeli born on a Kibbutz

Rina Geftman

Russian-Jewish Immigrant to Israel

Miryam Leah

Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Woman now Dominican Nun


born in Strasbourg, France 1791

Mark Neugebauer

Son of Holocaust Survivor

Orthodox Jewish young man in the U.K.





Click here to read more Jewish / Catholic Witness Testimonies on the site "Catholics for Israel"

































The Conversion of the Lemann Brothers




The Lemann brothers were Jews, twin brothers orphaned at an early age, and raised by their uncles and aunts in a wealthy, aristocratic Jewish family in Lyons, France.  They, on their own initiative and without the knowledge of their family, were baptized into the Catholic faith at the age of eighteen; when the family found out it tried to get the boys to recant; and when that failed, several of their uncles violently attacked them.  At the point of death, one of the boys was able to struggle free sufficiently to cry for help, and they were rescued by the police.  The incident, occurring as it did in one of the foremost families of the city, caused quite a scandal, and the family attempted to justify its behavior by accusing the boys of having been hoodwinked by the priest who baptized them, claiming he was only after their inheritance.  To defend the priest the boys, then eighteen, sent the following letter to the local newspaper:

Dear Editor,                                Sunday, September 17, 1854

    We see ourselves in the necessity of breaking a silence which we had determined to keep.  The newspapers have spoken enough about the unfortunate incident which has brought us to the public's attention.  If we alone were being accused, the condemnation that was placed on our conversion would be of little concern to us; our conscience belongs to us alone, and we recognize no one else's right to it.  But, as certain people are circulating malicious insinuations with respect to the clergy, it has become our duty to reveal the truth and enlighten the opinions of reasonable men.

    In our conversion, all has been the work of God.  From our childhood, the sight of Catholic services greatly impressed us, to the point that we felt regret that we were not Christian.  When we began school, this regret became more acute; we saw, on one hand, a few Jews; on the other hand, a great number of Christian children.  This difference struck us.  When they went to Mass and we heard the songs accompanied by the organ, we blushed to be reduced to gathering in an ordinary classroom and go through the motions of a pointless ritual.

    But what shook us even more were the love and the devotion of the priests and religious who vowed themselves to the service of the ill, a devotion which we compared with the coldness and indifference of the others who surrounded us.  On top of that, one of us fell gravely ill.  We were drawn more and more to Catholicism.  However, we dared not broach the question; we wanted to study further.  The further we advanced in our study, the more sharply we saw the false position we were in.  We opened up history, and we could not avoid becoming aware of the present state of the Jewish people as compared to its past.

    More and more difficulties, which our Rabbi never could resolve, piled up in our heads.  The study of the classics of Bossuet, of Fenelon,  of Massillon, was able to prepare our hearts to receive the grace of a God of mercy.  Then we searched the Holy Scriptures.  From the start, we understood that we could not walk alone; we must find a holy Priest.  Every day from then on, he gave us instruction, dissipated our doubts, explained to us the prophecies, and enabled us to grasp the link between the old and the new law.

    Then, we said to ourselves 'If the Messiah has already come, it's Jesus Christ, and we must become Christians.  If he has not yet come, we must nevertheless no longer remain Jews, because the time of the promise has passed and our books have lied.'

    He made us wait over a year.  After we graduated from high school, we insisted on being baptized; we had been out of school over a month.

    He could not refuse our request, we became Christians and we became happy.
    No one can make us renounce our faith, we are resolved to die first.

    It seems to us that the age of eighteen is old enough to discern the true from the false.  Furthermore, the Jews have demanded freedom of religion for themselves and for Protestants; they can hardly refuse it to us.

P.S.  Sir, we rely on your fairness to print this letter in your next issue.


The twin brothers went on to become priests, theologians, and canons of the Church; they became good friends of Pope Pius IX and played an active role at the First Vatican Council.  At that council, they circulated a 'Postulatum' which was signed by almost all of the Fathers of the council, and which was heartily endorsed by Pope Pius IX.  Only the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, which prematurely terminated the council, prevented the official proclamation of the Postulatum.  It consisted of a warm invitation to the Jews to join the Catholic Church; the text follows:

The undersigned Fathers of the Council humbly yet urgently beseechingly pray that the Holy Ecumenical Council of the Vatican deign to come to the aid of the unfortunate nation of Israel with an entirely paternal invitation; that is, that it express the wish that, finally exhausted by a wait no less futile than long, the Israelites hasten to recognize the Messiah, our Savior Jesus Christ, truly promised to Abraham and announced by Moses; thus completing and crowning, not changing, the Mosaic religion.

On one hand, the undersigned Fathers have the very firm confidence that the holy Council will have compassion on the Israelites, because they are always very dear to God on account of their fathers, and because it is from them that the Christ was born according to the flesh.

On the other hand, the same Fathers share the sweet and intimate hope that this ardent desire of tenderness and honor will be, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, well received by many of the sons of Abraham, because the obstacles which have held them back until now appear to be disappearing more and more, the ancient wall of separation now having fallen.

Would that they then speedily acclaim the Christ, saying 'Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed be He who comes in the name of the Lord!'

Would that they hurl themselves into the arms of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, even now their sister according to the flesh, who wishes likewise to be their mother according to grace as she is ours!














The Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne


Alphonse Ratisbonne was the son and heir of a wealthy, aristocratic family of Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. When Alphonse was still a child his older brother, Theodor, converted to the Catholic faith and became a priest.  The family reacted with hostility and horror.  Alphonse resolved never to communicate again with his older brother, and developed a violent antipathy to the Catholic faith and to all things Catholic.  Although Alphonse was entirely atheist in his beliefs, and non-practicing as a Jew, he felt a great love and loyalty for his fellow Jews, and devoted much of his effort and wealth to better their social condition.  At the time of his conversion, Alphonse was 27 years old, and engaged to marry his uncle's beautiful daughter and to take his place as a partner in his uncle's bank.  During his engagement Ratisbonne noticed a subtle change in his religious feelings; he wrote:

I must note a certain change that came about in my religious thinking during my engagement.  As I said, I did not believe in anything; in this absolute nihilism, in my denial of any faith, I felt myself to be in harmony with my Catholic and Protestant friends; the sight of my fiancee awakened in me a sentiment of human dignity.  I began to believe in the immortality of the soul; instinctively I began to pray to God; I thanked him for my good fortune, but nevertheless I still remained unhappy...I could not account for my sentiments;...I often told her [my fiancee] that, and truly, the thought of her raised my heart to the God, that I did not know, to whom I had not prayed, whom I had not invoked.

Because his fiancee was only sixteen it was thought appropriate to delay the wedding, and to pass the time Alphonse decided to take an extended prenuptial tourist trip.  An early stop was Naples; there he found himself alone on New Years Day, 1847.  In Ratisbonne's own description:

It was a sad day for me.  I was alone in Naples, I was not greeted by anybody, I had nobody to embrace...I wept and the joy of the Neapolitans increased my sadness. I went for a walk following mechanically the flow of the crowd.  I reached the piazza di Palazzo and found myself, I do not know why, at the door of a church.  I entered.  The Mass, I believe, was being celebrated.  How did it come about, I do not know, but I stopped for a moment leaning against a column, and my heart seemed to open and breathe a known atmosphere.  I prayed in my own way, without analyzing what was happening to me.  I prayed for my fiancee, my uncle, my dead father, my dear mother who left me as an orphan when I was young, all my close friends, and I asked God for inspiration that could guide me in my projects of improving the lot of the Jews -- an idea which I had always cherished.  My sadness left me, as a dark cloud that is blown away by the wind; in my whole interior, inundated with an ineffable calm, I experienced a consolation as if a voice had told me: 'Your prayer has been granted.'  Oh yes, my prayer has been heard one hundred per cent and beyond all expectation, because on the last day of that same month, I solemnly received the sacrament of baptism in a church in Rome!
After Naples Ratisbonne went on to Rome.  While there he called on the Baron de Bussieres, who was the brother of one of his best friends.  The Baron was a devout Catholic and dared Ratisbonne to wear a Miraculous Medal and to recite a short daily prayer to Mary  as a way of proving that there was nothing to such 'detestable superstitions.'  (The Miraculous Medal is a medal of Mary which was widely propagated following her apparition to a young nun, later St. Catherine Laboure, in her convent chapel in Paris). On January 20, the last day of his planned stay in Rome, Ratisbonne bumped into the Baron riding in his carriage, who invited him to join him for a ride.  When the Baron stopped at a nearby church to conduct some business with the priest, Ratisbonne went into the empty church to wait.  Let us continue with the Baron's account of what he found when he went into the church to get his friend:

I caught sight of him on his knees, in the chapel of St. Michael the Archangel .  I went up to him and touched him.  I had to do this three or four times before he became aware of my presence.  Finally he turned towards me, face bathed in tears...with an expression no words can describe...he took hold of his Miraculous Medal and kissed it with passionate emotion.  He broke into tears at the thought of all the heretics and unbelievers....Gradually this delirious emotion subsided and he grew calmer, and now his face was radiant, almost transfigured.  He begged me to take him to a priest and asked when he could receive holy Baptism, for now he was sure he could not live without it.  I took him at once to the Gesu  to see Father de Villefort, who invited him to explain what had happened.  Ratisbonne drew out his medal, kissed it, and showed it me, saying, 'I saw her! I saw her!' and again emotion choked his words, but soon he grew calmer and spoke.  I shall give his [Ratisbonne's] own words: 'I had only been in the church a moment when I was suddenly seized with an indescribable agitation of mind.  I looked up and found that the rest of the building had disappeared.  One single chapel seemed to have gathered all the light and concentrated it in itself.  In the midst of this radiance I saw someone standing on the altar, a lofty shining figure, all majesty and sweetness, the Virgin Mary just as she looks on this medal.  Some irresistible force drew me towards her.  She motioned to me to kneel down and when I did so, she seemed to approve.  Though she never said a word, I understood her perfectly.'
...At first he [Ratisbonne] had been able to see the Queen of Heaven clearly, appearing in all the splendor of her immaculate beauty; but he had not been able to bear the radiance of that divine light for long.  Three times he had tried to look up to her, and three times he had found himself unable to raise his eyes higher than her hands, from which blessings and graces seemed to be falling like so many shining rays. 'Oh God,' he cried, 'only half an hour before I was blaspheming, and felt a deadly hatred for the Catholic religion!  All my acquaintances know that humanly speaking I had the strongest reasons for remaining a Jew.  My family is Jewish, my bride to be is a Jewess, my uncle is a Jew.  By becoming Catholic I am sacrificing all my earthly hopes and interests; and yet I am not mad.' 
Soon after the experience Ratisbonne wrote:

How can I describe it? Human words cannot attempt to explain the unspeakable; every description, however sublime, will only be a profanation of the ineffable truth.  I was there, on my knees, in tears...I took the medal ...and kissed passionately the image of the Virgin radiant with grace.  It was She!

I did not know where I was.  I experienced an almost total change...I tried to find myself and could not...The greatest joy burst from the depths of my soul; I could not speak...I could not account for the faith and awareness that I had acquired.  All that I could say is that in the moment of this phenomenon, the band fell from my eyes; and not one band, but a whole collection of them, and they disappeared rapidly, one after the other, as snow, mud and ice disappear under the influence of the burning sun.

I came out of a tomb, out of the abyss of darkness and I was alive, perfectly alive...But I wept!  I saw in the bottom of the abyss the extreme misery from which I was torn out by an infinite mercy.  I trembled at the sight of all my iniquities, and I was stupefied, emotionally moved and shocked in admiration and gratitude...Oh, how many descend calmly into this abyss with their eyes closed by pride and recklessness!...They descend alive into the chasm of terrible darkness...And my family, my fiancee, my poor sisters!!!  For you I offered my first prayers.  Will you not lift up your eyes to the Saviour of the world whose blood cancelled the original sin?  Oh, how terrible is the imprint of that stain!  It renders the creature made in the image of God unrecognizable.

I wondered how I came to know this truth, since it is sure that I had not opened a religious book, I had not read a single page of the Bible, and the doctrine on the original sin, that is totally forgotten and denied by modern Jews, had not occupied my mind even for an instant; I doubt if I have ever heard the term.   How did I arrive at this knowledge?  I do not know.  I know this; that entering the church I knew nothing; leaving it, I saw everything clearly.  I can only explain this change with the image of a man who awoke from a deep sleep, or with that of a man born blind, who sees the light in one blow; he sees but cannot define the light that is the source of his illumination, and in which he contemplates the objects of his admiration.

...I felt ready for everything and [immediately]  insistently demanded baptism. They  wanted to delay it. 'But how!', I exclaimed, 'the Jews who heard the preaching of the Apostles were baptized immediately, and you want to delay it, even though I heard the Queen of the Apostles!'  
Eleven days later Alphonse received baptism, confirmation and first communion.  Soon afterwards he entered religious life (having broken off his engagement), and in 1847 was ordained a priest.  He spent the rest of his life working and praying for the conversion of his fellow Jews.  He moved to the Holy Land and with his brother Theodor founded a congregation of nuns --  the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion -- to pray for the conversion of the Jews.  He built a convent for them on the site of Pilate's palace, the very spot where Pilate showed the beaten and bloody Jesus to the crowd suggesting that he be released, to which the crowd of Jews cried back 'Crucify him!  His blood be on us and on our children!' (Matthew 27:25).  He died in 1884 at Ain Karem, John the Baptist's birthplace near Jerusalem.  His heartfelt prayer that New Year's Day in Naples, that God lead him to fulfill his cherished goal to work to improve the lot of the Jews, had been granted, as he said, 'beyond all expectation.'






























The Conversion of Rabbi Zolli, former Chief Rabbi of Rome




(This biography is from a monthly letter from Abbaye St. Joseph de Clairval, Flavigny, France, and is used with permission.  Their website, www.clairval.com,  contains many other inspirational biographies as well as information on the monastery,  how to receive their monthly letter, and the Ignation retreats which they offer.)


Israel, a young Jew, got along well at school with Stanislas, a young Christian. Invited to his friend's house, Israel saw a crucifix hanging on the wall. He had never seen one before. When he went home, he asked his family about this man hanging on a cross. They replied, 'This is something that concerns Christians, not us.' Much later, he read in the prophet Isaiah the songs of the servant of the Lord, in which is presented the purest and most innocent man, beaten, humiliated, and put to death for our sins. The nagging question then sprang to his mind: 'Isn't the crucified man I saw this servant of Yahweh?'
Young Israel Zoller was born on September 17, 1881, in Brody, in Galicia, now a region in southeast Poland, but at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He was the youngest of five children. Members of the Jewish faith, the family was relatively well-off, as the father was the owner of a silk factory in Lodz, then in Russian territory. In 1888, the Czar decided to nationalize every business owned by foreigners. Mr. Zoller's factory in Lodz was confiscated without financial compensation. The family's way of life was considerably reduced, and the eldest sons were forced to move away to look for work.
At the age of seven, Israel attended the Jewish primary school, where the children learned passages from the Bible by heart. But his taste for religious learning came primarily from his father. For her part, his mother taught him to help the needy. Moved by her neighbor's poverty, she redoubled her good works, appealing when necessary to the other ladies in her neighborhood, Jewish or Catholic. In the Brody area, there was no scorn or mistrust between Jews and Christians. A bond, in fact, 'spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock. 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' (Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, 4).

In 1904, Israel left his family, whom he would never see again. His mother, who had always wished to see him become a rabbi, had just died. While giving lessons to provide for his family's needs, he studied philosophy at the University of Vienna, then at the University of Florence, where he completed his doctorate. At the same time, he pursued rabbinical studies. Named vice-rabbi of Trieste in 1913, which at that time was an Austrian port, he married Adele Litwak, a Galician Jew, from which union a daughter, Dora, was born. During the first World War, Israel was hounded by the Austrian police as an Italian partisan, because he had studied in that country. At the end of the conflict, Trieste was united with Italy, and Israel Zoller was named Chief Rabbi of the city.

Wasn't Jesus a Son of my people?

In 1917, he suffered the profound pain of losing his wife. At the time, he had a mystical experience—one afternoon, 'all of a sudden and without knowing why, as if I were in an ecstasy, I called upon the name of Jesus... I saw Him as in a large painting... I gazed at Him for a long time, without restlessness, feeling, rather, perfect serenity of mind... I said to myself, ‘Wasn't Jesus a Son of my people?' ' Nothing premeditated, nothing prepared. It was a first quiet call from Christ.

Zoller married again in 1920, to Emma Majonica, who would give him a second daughter, Miriam. From 1918 to 1938, living all the while in Trieste, he taught Hebrew and ancient Semitic languages at the University of Padua. Surprisingly, he studied the New Testament as well as the Old Testament. In this way he became familiar with the person of Jesus Christ and His teaching. He could not keep himself from comparing the Old Testament to the New: 'In the Old Testament, Justice is carried out by one man towards another... We do good for good received; we do harm for harm we have suffered at the hands of another. Not to do injury for injury is, in a certain fashion, to fall short of justice.' What a contrast with the Gospel: Love your enemies... pray for them, or even Jesus' last words on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing! 'All this stupefied me,' Zoller wrote. 'The New Testament is, in fact, an altogether new Testament.' And he clarified, 'Here a new earth, a new heaven begin... The rich who are attached to the earth are poor, and the poor who have been able to detach themselves from the earth are truly rich, because they possess a kingdom that belongs to the afflicted, to the silent, and to the persecuted, who have themselves never persecuted, but have only loved.' Little by little, Zoller discovered the bond that links the two Testaments. Indeed, 'God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New. ... [T]he books of the Old Testament ... acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament' (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 16).

The Nazarene

In addition, Zoller noted with sadness that, among his co-religionists, 'love of the Law is often more important than the law of Love.' The petty details of rabbinical casuistry eclipsed the great commandment of the law revealed by God to Moses: You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul... (Dt. 6:5). As a specialist in ancient languages, he discovered that the name 'Nazarene' first of all referred to the little town where Jesus lived during His first thirty years. But the name also meant that Jesus of Nazareth was the Nazir (the Consecrated One) announced by the prophet Isaiah: A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud (in Hebrew: nazer) shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him (Is. 11:1-2a). He expounded on this discovery in his most significant work of the twenty years he spent in Trieste, The Nazarene (1938).

The striking agreement between the story of Christ's Passion in the Gospel and the Suffering Servant described by the prophet Isaiah eight centuries before His coming left Zoller convinced that this prophesy was fulfilled in Jesus: He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity... we held him in no esteem. Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured... He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins...; by his stripes we were healed (Isaiah 53, 3-5). In addition, examining Jesus' declarations on His divinity led him to write, 'Christ is the Messiah; the Messiah is God; therefore Christ is God.' Zoller was intellectually convinced, but he did not yet have faith. Faith was a grace that he would receive seven years later.

The rapprochement between Mussolini and Hitler's Germany at the end of the 1930s brought with it anti-Semitic campaigns in Italy, particularly in areas close to borders with the Third Reich. In Trieste, where there were many Jews, a Catholic historian organized a series of anti-Semitic conferences. A large audience was expected. Zoller decided to intercede with a Jesuit, a friend of the speaker's. The religious arranged a meeting between the rabbi and the orator. With gentleness and kindness, Zoller exhorted his listener, in the name of Christian principles and especially in the name of the forgiveness that Jesus Christ granted on the Cross, to cancel his conferences. The professor raised the difficulty of his situation as an objection—everything had already been organized. The rabbi shrugged his shoulders and advised him only to read the Gospel, as he often did himself. He predicted, 'The time is near when we will become good friends.' The following Sunday, in front of a packed auditorium, the lecturer announced that a high-ranking Jew had enlightened his conscience. He no longer wanted to continue on the path he had strayed down until then, and canceled the scheduled conferences.

But already discriminatory laws had been enacted against the Jews. Israel Zoller Italianized his name to 'Zolli.' Nevertheless, he was soon stripped of his Italian nationality, but he was not particularly worried. In 1940, the Jewish community in Rome offered him the post of Chief Rabbi. He accepted the position, with the goal of protecting his brothers in the persecution that was anticipated, and of making peace among the divisions within the Jewish community, whose members he exhorted to set politics aside and turn their attention to prayer, teaching, and mutual aid. But this appeal met with almost no response.

A solidarity that saves

In September 1943, after the fall of Mussolini and the armistice signed by the king of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, with the Americans, Hitler sent thirty German divisions to occupy northern and central Italy. Himmler, commander of the SS, determined that the time had come to apply the policy of extermination of the Jewish race in Italy. He ordered the head of the SS in Rome, Lieutenant Colonel Kappler, to gather all the Jews together, men and women, children and the elderly, for deportation to Germany. Lieutenant Colonel Kappler took advantage of the deportation order that he had received for extortion. He summoned the two men presiding over the Jewish community in Rome, and demanded they deliver 50 kilos of gold to him in twenty-four hours, or else all the men in the Jewish population in the city would be deported immediately. In fact, it was a matter of a list of three hundred hostages, at the top of which Zolli appeared. The next day, the Jewish community had been able to collect only 35 kilos of gold. They asked the Chief Rabbi to go to the Vatican to try to borrow what was missing. He succeeded in entering the Vatican, all the exits of which were monitored by the Gestapo, by a hidden door in the back of the City, and explained his request for a loan of 15 kilos of gold to Pius XII's Secretary of State, Cardinal Maglione. He gave his own person as a security. The prelate consulted with the Holy Father, then asked Zolli to return before one o'clock in the afternoon. But shortly thereafter, Zolli learned that the quantity of gold required had already been collected, thanks to contributions from priests and numerous Catholic organizations.

However, this was only a respite. The Chief Rabbi made every effort to convince the Jews of Rome to disperse to avoid deportation. Soon the German ambassador to the Holy See, von Weizsäcker, who was secretly hostile to Nazi policy, warned the Pope that Himmler had ordered the deportation of all Jews in Italy. Pius XII immediately ordered the Roman clergy to open their sanctuaries so as to receive the Jews who would come to hide there. Zolli, who had a price on his head, lived in hiding for the next nine months and, finally, with Christian friends of his daughter, Dora. He thus succeeded in escaping from the Gestapo. But despite the precautions taken, in the night of October 15-16, a thousand Roman Jews (out of about 8000) were arrested and deported. Most would not return.

'From now on you will follow Me'

On June 4, 1944, the city of Rome was liberated by the American forces. By government decree of September 21, 1944, Israel Zolli, who had been relieved of his duties seven months earlier by leaders of the Jewish community, became Chief Rabbi of Rome again. During the feast of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in October 1944, he presided over the prayers of Great Pardon in the synagogue in Rome. 'Suddenly,' he wrote, 'I saw, with the eyes of the mind, a large prairie, and standing in the middle of the green grass was Jesus, dressed in a white robe... At the sight of this, I felt a great interior peace, and, from the depths of my heart, I heard these words: 'You are here for the last time. From now on, you will follow Me.' I received them in the greatest serenity, and my heart immediately responded, 'As it shall be, so it must be.'... An hour later, after supper, in my room, my wife declared to me, 'Today, while you were standing before the Ark of the Torah, it seemed to me that the white figure of Jesus was laying His hands on you, as if He were blessing you.' I was stupefied... At that very moment, our younger daughter, Miriam, who had gone to her room and hadn't heard anything, called for me to tell me, 'You are in the middle of talking about Jesus Christ. You know, Papa, this evening I saw a big Jesus, all white, in a dream.' I wished them both a good night and, without feeling at all ill at ease, I continued to think about the extraordinary sequence of events.'

A few days later, the Chief Rabbi relinquished his duties, and went to find a priest in order to complete his instruction in the truths of the faith. On February 13, 1945, Archbishop Traglia conferred the sacrament of Baptism on Israel Zolli, who chose 'Eugenio' as his Christian name, in gratitude to Pope Pius XII for his decisive action on behalf of the Jews during the war. Zolli's wife, Emma, received Baptism with her husband, and added the name 'Maria' to her first name. Their daughter Miriam would follow her parents after a year of personal reflection. Eugenio Zolli's baptism was the result of a long spiritual evolution: 'This event in my soul was like the arrival of a beloved guest. I began only to hear the voice of Christ expressed most clearly and most strongly in the Gospels. In my soul, God did not reveal Himself at all by means of tempest or fire, but through a gentle murmur... I became aware of a God Whom I loved, a God Who wants to be loved, and who Himself loves... The convert, like the man miraculously cured, is the object (the one who receives) and not the subject (the perpetrator) of the miracle. It is false to speak of someone who has converted as if he has acted from personal initiative. No one says of the miraculously cured that he has cured himself, but that he has been cured. We must say the same of the convert.'

All men and women are His children

Zolli was often asked if he had converted out of gratitude towards Pope Pius XII. He always answered in the negative, adding, however: 'You could say of the reign of Pius XII that it was inspired by the words of the prophet Isaiah: 'Peace is harmony, peace is salvation for those who are near as for those who are far, I wish to heal all' (cf. Is. 57:19). The Catholic Church loves all souls. She suffers with all and for all. She waits with love for all her children on Peter's holy threshold, and her children are all mankind... There is no place of suffering that Pius XII's spirit of love did not reach... In the course of history, no hero commanded such an army. No military force was more fighting, none was more fought against, none was more heroic than that led by Pius XII in the name of Christian charity.' According to the Jewish historian Pinchas Lapide, the Catholic Church, through its charitable action, was able to save from certain death approximately 850,000 Jews living in areas occupied by the Third Reich (Cf. Pius XII and the Second World War, by Father Pierre Blet S.J., Paulist Press, 1999).

The night of his Baptism, Zolli did not even have enough to eat dinner. Archbishop Traglia gave him 50 lira. At the age of sixty-five, Zolli found himself suddenly confronted with grave financial problems, starting with that of supporting his family. Up until that time, he had always lived from his fees as a Rabbi and a professor. He accepted this new situation with the greatest detachment: 'I am asking for the water of Baptism and nothing else. I am poor and I will live poor. I have trust in Providence.' The news of the Chief Rabbi of Rome being baptized launched a chorus of slanders. He was accused, among other calumnies, of having apostatized out of self-interest. It was easy for him to answer: 'The Jews who convert today, as in Saint Paul's time, have everything to lose in terms of material life, and have everything to gain in the life of grace.' He responded to the reproach of treason with indignation: 'The God of Jesus Christ, of Paul, is He not the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?'

In our time, certain Catholics think it is pointless for a Jew to convert to become Christian. This opinion is contradicted by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: 'Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved' (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 14).

At three o'clock in the afternoon, just like Jesus


Through the Holy Father's intervention, Eugenio Zolli was named a professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. In October 1946, he entered the Third Order of Saint Francis, the distinguishing feature of which is evangelical poverty practiced by lay people in the world. Zolli, a faithful parishioner at Stella Matutina, discreetly attended talks on the Gospel given by his parish priest. During Christmas 1955, he himself gave a conference on the announcement of the Redeemer in the Old Testament. But in January 1956, he came down with pneumonia. His wife Emma was also sick and elderly. Their younger daughter, Miriam, who was married and had given birth to a little girl, Maura Brigida, stayed at her father's bedside in this final illness. A week before his death, Eugenio confided to a nun who was caring for him, 'I will die the first Friday of the month, at three o'clock in the afternoon, just like Our Lord.' On Friday, March 2, in the morning, he received Holy Communion. Having fallen into a coma at noon, at three o'clock in the afternoon Eugenio Zolli committed his soul to God. He had written at the end of his memoirs: 'We can trust in nothing save the mercy of God, save the compassion of Christ, Whom humanity put to death because it did not know how to live in Him. We can rely on nothing but the intercession of Her whose Heart was pierced through by the lance that pierced Her Son's side.'

Through his spiritual journey, Eugenio Zolli shows the continuity between the old Covenant and the New:

"'Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them' Jesus had said (Mt. 5:17). God has visited his people. He has fulfilled the promise he made to Abraham and his descendents. He acted far beyond all expectation -- He has sent His own 'beloved Son.' ... 'In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son' (Heb. 1:1-2). Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect, and unsurpassable Word. In Him He has said everything; there will be no other word than this one... 'In giving us His Son, His only Word,' wrote Saint John of the Cross, 'He has no more to say... Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending Him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty' ' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 422 and 65).

For Zolli, the demands that this truth brought with it were not easy to implement. At the end of his life, he said, 'Those of you who are born into the Catholic faith do not realize the opportunity you have, to have received the grace of Christ since your childhood. But those who, like me, have come to the threshold of faith after long work continued over the course of many years, appreciate the grandeur of the gift of Faith and feel all the joy there is to be Christian.'

Let us thank God for the gift of Faith that He has granted us undeservedly. Let us preserve this treasure through a holy life, and let us pray that all men and women might know the Messiah, believe in Him, and obtain eternal Life.


Bibliography: Judith Cabaud: Eugenio Zolli, Prophet of a New World (de Guibert, Paris 2000).













The Conversion of Charlie Rich, Hasidic Jew



Charlie Rich was born in 1899 to a devout Hasidic family in a small village in Hungary.  As a child his schooling was entirely religious, and he had a prayerful, pious nature, spending many hours alone in the woods around his home in loving contemplation of God.  But after his family emigrated to the United States and settled in a Jewish ghetto in New York City, Charlie lost the faith of his childhood and became an atheist.  He retained, however, an intense thirst for philosophical and religious truth, and during his twenties spent hours a day, day after day and month after month, in the public library studying philosophy and religion.  Let us continue in his own words:

"At the age of thirty-three I had read every important literary work held famous in the eyes of men... And yet... there was distress in my spiritual and intellectual make-up, so much so that I thought of suicide as a way out of the misery, spiritual and intellectual I was in...faith failed me, and I felt that without supernatural faith I could not go on living and this in the same way as anyone would soon die if he was not given food to eat...I actually went to the Bronx Park with the intention of hanging myself.  I had picked out a tree and had a rope in my hand, when someone passed by and courage failed me....Anyway, I one day passed a Catholic Church -- it was a hot summer day, and I felt weary and exhausted.  So I thought if I went inside I could cool off...I went inside and found myself completely alone... "

There, seated in the shadows in the empty church, he looked up to a stained glass window depicting Jesus stilling the waters during the storm (Luke 8:22-25) and said to himself:

"If only I could believe with the same assurance as those who come to worship here believe! that the words in the Gospels are really true, that Christ really existed, and that these words are exactly those that came from His own mouth, were uttered from His own human lips, and that they are literally true.  Oh, if this were only a fact, if I could only believe that this were a fact, how glorious and wonderful that would be, how consoled, happy and comforted I would be, to know that Christ was really divine, that He was God's own Son come down from another world to this earth to save us all!  Could it be possible, I felt, that that which seemed too wonderful to be true actually was true, that it was no deception, no fraud, no lie?  All of a sudden something flashed though my mind and I heard these words spoken in it. 'Of course it is true, Christ is God, is God come down to make Himself visible in the flesh.  The words in the Gospels are true, literally true.'

The next thing I remember was that I found myself on my knees in fervent prayer and thanksgiving.  I felt a deep gratitude in my heart for something which made me feel very happy, but what it was I could not say.  All that I know is that, from that day on the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ took on a significance which it never before had.   There was an ineffable fragrance about the words 'Jesus Christ,' a sweetness with which nothing can be compared.  The sound of these words to this day fills me with a strange inexpressible joy, a joy which I feel does not come from this world...

I have, since my Baptism and First Communion, acquired a happiness which I would not exchange for anything in all the world.  It has given to me a peace of mind and a serenity of outlook which I did not think was possible on this earth...I suppose the Buddhist would characterize this sort of peace by the word  'Nirvana,' but I would much prefer to call it by the familiar language of Paul: 'The peace of God that surpasses all understanding.'  "

Later Charlie Rich wrote:

"It would in my case have been in vain to have been born had God not been good enough to extend me the grace to become a member of the Mystical Body of Christ the Church of Rome is.  Without the Life Christ is, there is no life at all, and for him also the Life Christ is can only be had where he now so blessedly is...It is for heaven we have been made and for no other earthly good thing.  It is to heaven every good and beautiful experience points and has in view.

I became a Catholic so that I may in that way be happy, not just for a few years, but forever and ever.  I became a Catholic that I may in that way get the grace to one day participate in the joys of the angels and saints in the life to come.  It is to that life the grace of conversion is meant to lead.  It is meant to lead to a happiness we cannot now imagine or conceive.
No, it is not for this life alone we are Catholics.  We are Catholics that by being so we may get the grace to live the Life Christ Himself is and which can never have a limit to it...It is not of the earth my holy Catholic faith speaks to me.  It does so of the transcendent Good Jesus can alone be for a human being.

And so, one can write and write and write about the story of ones conversion and never come to an end.  He can never come to an end of enumerating the blessings conferred upon him by the grace of becoming a Catholic.  'The favors of the Lord I will sing forever.' (Hebrew: 'mercy'; Psalm 89:2).  What mercy of the Lord can exceed the mercy of God enabling me to be able to believe in all the Catholic Church teaches?  Can the mercy of God be made more manifest [than] in the grace extended to us to become a member of the only true Church?  It is becoming a Catholic that matters and not in any other thing the world has to offer be this good and beautiful as it may.  The Church of Rome gives us God Himself.  It does so in all His fullness -- a greater gift than God is, a human being cannot hope to receive.  We receive the gift God Himself is when we receive Holy Communion.  Can Protestantism and Judaism endow the soul with such a sublime gift?  It is to the Church we must go to have God in the fullness He may be experienced by us this side of heaven.  To become more intimately united with God than the Church enables us to be by means of the Holy Sacraments, we must take leave of this life.  It is Christ the Church gives us as he may be had under the conditions of the present life.  To have God in all His fullness we have to have the grace of membership in His Mystical Body.  It is the Voice of Christ the Church makes use of when He says 'I came that they might have life and have it to the full' (John. 10:10). "


Charlie Rich recently passed away, in his late nineties, having lived out his life as a contemplative, much of it with a community of Jesuits in New York City.