Lustiger - whose Polish immigrant mother died in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz - was archbishop of Paris for 24 years before stepping down in 2005 at the age of 78. Lustiger died in a medical center in Paris, the archbishop's office said.
Lustiger never publicly addressed the tragedy of his mother Gisele, killed at the hands of the Nazis. But during France's National Day of Remembrance to commemorate the deportation and death of French Jews during World War II, Lustiger, taking part in the reading of names in 1999, came to his mother's.
"Gisele Lustiger," he intoned, then added, "Ma mamam” (my mama), before continuing, Catholic World News reported.
“The strength of evil can only be answered with an even greater strength of love," Lustiger said at an August 2005 Mass in Lodz, Poland, in memory of the more than 200,000 Jews deported from there to Nazi death camps.
Lustiger at Auschwitz in 2005 (Photo: AFP)
A confidante of former Pope John Paul II, Lustiger represented the then-pontiff at commemoration ceremonies for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp where his mother died.
An atypical archbishop and cardinal, Lustiger appeared to have perfectly synthesized his Jewish heritage with his chosen faith.
"Christianity is the fruit of Judaism," he once said. "For me, it was never for an instant a question of denying my Jewish identity. On the contrary," he said in "Le Choix de Dieu" (The Choice of God), conversations published in 1987.
Born Aaron Lustiger on Sept. 17, 1926 in Paris to Polish immigrant parents who ran a hosiery shop, he was sent to the town of Orleans, 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of the capital, to take refuge from the occupying Nazis.
There, Lustiger, who was not a practicing Jew, converted to Catholicism in 1940 at the age of 14, taking the name Jean-Marie. Two years later, his mother was deported to Auschwitz.
Lustiger kept his personal journey of conversion a mostly private matter. However, he called for a "true dialogue" between Christians and Jews in a 2002 book, "La Promesse" (The Promise) that delved into Judeo-Christian relations and "the mystery of Israel."
He specified that "Israel" in the book was the biblical reference to the Hebrews, not the Jewish state.