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2007 Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Award

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Award Citation

June 29th, 2007

Eugene J. Fisher, Ph.D.

Eugene Fisher holds the distinction of playing a central role in every turning point in Catholic-Jewish relations for the last three decades.  Appointed as Executive Secretary for Catholic-Jewish Relations at the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Council of Catholic Bishops in 1977, he became the second office holder and the first layperson to serve in that role.  Since then, he has symbolized and engineered the implementation of enlightened Catholic understanding of and relations with Jews after Vatican Council II when Nostra Aetate forever changed the nature of the relationship of the Catholic Church to Non-Christians.

Fisher is a native of Grosse Point, Michigan, and before his appointment at the Bishops’ Council he was the Director of Catechist Formation for the Archdiocese of Detroit as well as adjunct professor of Sacred Scripture at St. John’s Seminary and the University of Detroit.  Having earned his doctorate in Hebrew Culture and Education at New York University in 1976, he was one of the first Catholics to pursue such advanced study of the Bible in a predominantly Jewish setting.  Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, notably by Jewish professors at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Dr. Fisher emphasizes that Catholics and Jews share a special place in history linked by our common relationship in scripture.  His pioneering work on the Christian presentation of Judaism transformed religious education and textbook treatment around the world.  He has also written on the Jewish presentation of Christianity.   

As a key figure in Pope John Paul II’s program to revolutionize Catholic-Jewish relations, he coined the phrase ”no theological barriers” to the recognition of the state of Israel. Since 1981 he has been a consultor to the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.  Dr. Fisher drafted the pope’s 1987 speech to American Jewish leaders which pledged to join the Jewish people in their cry of “never again” regarding the Holocaust. In 1999 he assembled the team that studied documents from Vatican archives on World War II.  He has lectured widely in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Latin America, and Australia, and participated in countless interfaith programs in the United States, Israel, and the Vatican.  His numerous publications have been translated into a variety of languages for use around the world.

Gene Fisher attributes his achievement to the development of individual relationships in order to establish the level of trust necessary to promote open dialogue.   His commitment to a policy of positive outreach and his sincere and unflagging devotion to his work have been recognized throughout his career by both Catholic and Jewish organizations.   Most recently, he received the Anti Defamation League’s Dr. Joseph L. Lichten Award in Catholic-Jewish Relations for his leadership in social, political, and theological challenges facing Catholics and Jews.

For his outstanding legacy to the advancement of Catholic-Jewish relations, for his productive and faithful service to the Church for 30 years, and for his uncommon effort to find the common ground we all seek, the Catholic Common Ground Initiative proudly bestows the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Award 2007 to Eugene Fisher.