An ultra-orthodox rabbi, Jean-Marie Élie Setbon, was baptized in the Catholic Church on September 14, 2008. After many years of spiritual struggle and searching, he came to believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the true God who had become a true man to save us.
Jean-Marie Élie Setbon was born in Paris on June 10, 1964. His parents chose for him the name Jean-Marc (John Mark). He was circumcised but was brought up in a non-observant Jewish family.
A Childhood Secret
For many years, Jean-Marc was not even aware that he was a Jew. His parents did not observe Jewish feasts, keep traditions or go to the synagogue.
Like most of his friends, he wore his hair long, was joyful and laughed a lot. He liked watching westerns (traditional cowboy movies) and was a football fan.
Since his early childhood, Jean- Marc talked to God in his heart, in spite of the fact that his parents did not tell him anything about God. He remembered that in 1972, during a vacation in Brittany (France), he came into direct contact with Jesus. In the room where Jean-Marc happened to be staying, a crucifix hung on the wall. Looking at the crucified Christ, the boy felt so well in his presence that he could continue staring at it for hours.
“Why, Lord, did I fall in love with an object producing revulsion in my people, why?” (Jean-Marie Élie Setbon)
The next summer, he travelled with his parents to the Vendée for another vacation. There, large crosses stand at almost every crossroad. He was enchanted with the view. During siesta, he would sneak out of the house to stand under a cross, gazing at Jesus, oblivious to what was happening around him. With his child’s entire heart he fell in love with Jesus; he did not associate the cross with suffering and death but with the Person of Jesus who radiated love. This was the greatest secret of his childhood. After many years, he asked: “Why, Lord, did I fall in love with an object producing revulsion in my people, why?”
To Step Inside a Church
When Jean-Marc was 12, he started to prepare for Bar Mitzvah (the ritual introducing Jewish boys into adulthood). Every Wednesday and Sunday, his parents sent him to attend Hebrew classes, involving Old Testament reading and meetings, at which he learned prayers and had the symbolism of Jewish feasts explained. The boy liked very much to study the Old Testament and Judaism in general, but all this did not lessen his fascination with Jesus. Deep in his heart, Jean-Marc carried a strong desire to step inside a church. He concealed it, because he knew that his parents would not approve of it.
One Sunday afternoon, Jean- Marc went to the Sacré-Coeur Church on Montmartre (Paris). He knew that he was committing an unforgivable offense against Judaism but felt safe in the crowd of tourists. When he stepped inside the basilica, he looked around for a crucifix and suddenly was overcome by a feeling of happiness, realizing that he was where he belonged, at home. Gazing at Jesus painted on the dome, he felt loved and wanted to stay in his presence. Upon leaving the Sacré- Coeur Church with a heavy heart, he resolved to visit it as often as possible. Since then, every evening, the boy would kneel at his bed, make the sign of the cross and tell Jesus that he loved him.
A few months before he turned 13, Jean-Marc visited the Sacré-Coeur Basilica once again. Mass was about to start; he did not know what the meaning of it was. During Communion, he felt an inner urge to approach the balustrade with others and accept the food whose nature was a complete mystery to him. After receiving Communion, Jean- Marc was filled with great joy. Since that time, the boy regularly received Communion, although he did not know that it was the Body of Christ. After many years, he wrote: “Since then, the Eucharist had become for me like a drug! This is yet another madness of God. He infuses you with the desire to unite with him in Holy Communion, whereas the Church does not allow us to receive it before baptism. How very surprising are the ways of the Lord!”
While studying the Talmud, Elijah discovered the shocking fact that Jesus was considered a blasphemer and for this reason it is forbidden to pronounce his name
In June 1977, Jean-Marc had his Bar Mitzva, introducing him into adult Jewish life. On this occasion, he was given a gift of 150 francs. Having his own money, he could finally buy a small cross he wanted so much to have and wore it around his neck. He was very pleased with it but was also very careful not to let anybody see it. In spite of these fears, Jean- Marc took yet another step. When he attended Mass in the Sacré-Coeur Church, he heard the Gospels. Having gathered that these were writings about the life of Jesus, he felt a desire to learn more about him. For this purpose, he bought a copy of the New Testament and read it passionately every day.