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Reviewed by John T. Pawlikowski, O.S.M., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Catholic Theological Union. Chicago, Il
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Dr. Eugene Fisher has played a central role for several decades in the educational and institutional implementation of Vatican II's NOSTRA AETATE  (The Council's Declaration on Catholicism's relationship with non-Christian religions), chapter four of which positively transformed the Catholic Church's understanding  of Jews and Judaism.  As his memoir shows, he has been involved in this implementation not only here in the United States where he served for many years a principal staff person on Catholic-Jewish relations at the presently named United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington but also as a key person in the development of Vatican and papal statements and meetings in this area. Hence his personal reflections are invaluable for anyone interested in the history of Catholic-Jewish relations during the last half-century.

Fisher's volume has great relevance for Catholic and Jewish historians. But it is written in a clear, easy-to-understand personal style that also makes it a profitable read for the ordinary Catholic and Jews

 

Fisher begins his narrative with personal history that is significant for his emergence as a central figure in the Christian-Jewish dialogue.  He speaks of his time at the seminary in Detroit where he came under the influence ofFr, John Castelot, S.S., an early contributor to modern Catholic biblical interpretation, his reading of Fr. Edward Flannery's iconic volume THE ANGUISH OF THE JEWS, his participation in the first "The Church Struggle and the Holocaust" Conference held at Wayne State University in Detroit and his doctoral program in Hebrew Studies at New York University.  All these experiences proved formative for his understanding of the Christian-Jewish relationship as he assumed his staff position at th Catholic Bishops" Conference.

 

In the main body of this short volume Fisher takes the reader through key  events in the more than half-century of Catholic-Jewish relations since the issuance of Vatican II's NOSTRA AETATE.  These include Pope St. JohnPaul II's speech in Miami to the Jewish religious and communal leadership, his work on the national workshops on Christian-Jewish relations, Austrian Chancellor Kurt Waldheim's visit to the Pope, the coordination of the analysis of Vatican archival materials by a joint team of Catholic and Jewish historians the disputes over the canonization of St. Edith Stein  the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, Pope Benedict XVI \statement on interreligious understanding  DOMINUS IEJUS, and  Mel Gibson's film THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST as well as his involvement with the release of the 1998 Vatican document on the Holocaust WE REMEMBER  and related statements from national conferences of European bishops.
 

I would only offer a couple of comments on the above events.  With regard to the issue of Pope Benedict XV's statement DOMINUS IEJUS. Fisher is correct that he and Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, then the episcopal moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations skillfully managed to diffuse the conflict with Jewish leaders on the social-political level.  But I would disagree with him that it was resolved on the theological level.  And in terms ofMel Gibson's film, while I fully concur with his critique of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST in terms of its inaccurate, negative presentation of Jews and Judaism, I would add that it remains highly problematic from an internal Christian perspective because it severs the passion/death of Jesus from his three years of public ministry.  Jesus died on Calvary because of what he had said and done during those ministerial years.  Only in combining these two aspects of Jesus' time on earth do we have a full understanding of Jesus' salvific ministry.

 

 While without question the events discussed by Fisher were central moments over the last fifty-plus years I am somewhat surprised by his omission of two other conflictual situations.  The first occurred at the U.S. Bishops' celebration of the fortieth anniversary of NOSTRA ATETATE held in  Washington in 2005.  At that conference Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., challenged the notion that chapter four of NOSTRA AETATE had in fact argued for the continuing validity of the Jewish covenant after the Christ Event.  He claimed such a claim remained an open rather than a settled question for Catholics.  Dulles' paper angered many of the Jewish of the Jewish leaders present at the conference, some of whom had been staunch partners with Catholic religious leaders and scholars for several decades,  This tension was eventually resolved through the steady hand of Cardinal Walter Kasper, then President of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.  He let it be known that Cardinal Dulles' view was a personal one and did not represent the official teaching of the Vatican.

 

The second crisis stemmed from the premature release of a study document on covenant and mission in 2002.  Several years later this document endured a critique by a group of bishops in the name of the bishops 'conference.  The episcopal critique appeared to link dialogue with the process of evangelization.  Many Jewish leaders saw such linkage as a betrayal of the integrity of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue.  Eventually this critique was altered by the bishops to remove the controversial linkage. Jewish concern subsided as a result but  the underlying theological issue of evangelization in any form of interreligious dialogue was never fully discussed and continues to remain unsettled.

 

Fisher's volume ends with a brief account of his work at St. Leo's University near Tampa and the tragic fire at his Florida home after his retirement from the bishops' conference.  Overall the book shows us how a sensitive management of conflicts in interreligious relations can in fact lead to enhanced interreligious bonding and understanding.