WASHINGTON (CNA) — Author and Catholic convert from Judaism Dawn Eden remembers Archbishop Pietro Sambi as a pastoral leader with a “fatherly” heart who shared a special connection with her over his deep affection for the Jewish faith.
Archbishop Sambi, the Pope’s diplomatic representative to the U.S., died on Wednesday, July 27, at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after lung-surgery complications.
Eden, known for her 2006 bestseller The Thrill of the Chaste, remembers a unique and surprising series of events with the late archbishop that are forever branded in her memory.
In a July 29 interview with CNA, she recalled meeting Archbishop Sambi for the first time in 2007 at a dinner in Washington, D.C.
Eden remembered a friend introducing her to the archbishop as a Jewish convert, since the nuncio had “a special affection for the Jewish people,” having served as the papal representative to the Holy Land.
“Before I could get any words out, Archbishop Sambi looked me in the eyes with a big smile and took both my hands in his and held them tight,” Eden said.
“You must come and have tea with me at the nunciature,” Archbishop Sambi told her, “and I will show you pictures of my late friend Cardinal Lustiger, and I will tell you a story about him.”
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a renowned French archbishop who converted to Catholicism from the Jewish faith and died in 2007 just weeks earlier, was “a great friend” of Archbishop Sambi, Eden said.
“I was quite stunned,” she recalled, “to be immediately welcomed” by the archbishop in such an intimate, friendly way.
As soon as she got home, Eden contacted the nunciature and “heard back immediately” from the archbishop’s secretary. Within days, Eden was welcomed by Archbishop Sambi into his parlor at the nunciature for tea and cookies.
Once seated, Archbishop Sambi earnestly showed her different photos of the late cardinal’s life, including the French prelate’s visit to the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, where his mother died.
“It was very important to him that I get a feel for who Cardinal Lustiger was” and the way that his Jewish faith “was integral to his Catholic faith,” Eden said.
It was then that Archbishop Sambi told Eden why he felt so compelled after meeting her to invite her to tea.
He explained that, just three days before Cardinal Lustiger died in August of 2007, he spoke over the phone from Washington, D.C., to the ailing cardinal at his residence in Paris.
“I have just one last request of God; it’s just a small request, and I know he will not deny me,” Cardinal Lustiger had told Archbishop Sambi.
“What is it?” the archbishop asked.
“I would like to have tea with you one more time,” Cardinal Lustiger said, which were among the last words he ever spoke to the archbishop.
Archbishop Sambi then told Eden that when she approached him at the dinner a month after Cardinal Lustiger’s death, he felt that this was his opportunity “to have tea one last time with the cardinal in spirit.”
“Because I, like the cardinal, was a convert from Judaism,” Eden said.
The story of her tea with the archbishop “illustrates, so much better than a simple word of praise, how deep his love was for the Jewish people,” she added.
Not only did the archbishop meet with Eden again, but also with her sister, Rabbi Jennifer Goldstein Lewis, and her father as well.
Eden recalled: “The way that the archbishop was so warm, so fatherly and personable, it felt like he was conveying the Holy Father’s love for each one of us, which is, of course, an extension of God’s love for each one of us.”