Being human in the Christian faith with a view to world affairs

Obituary of Bishop Dr Elmar Fischer

by Eva-Maria Föllmer-Müller

On 19 January 2022, Bishop Dr Elmar Fischer passed away at the age of 85 after a short serious illness in Feldkirch in Vorarlberg, Austria. Elmar Fischer was an honorary member of the working group “Mut zur Ethik”. His funeral took place in Feldkirch Cathedral on 28 January with the participation of numerous church and political dignitaries, priests, relatives, friends and acquaintances. Before the funeral service began, the church bells were tolling for 15 minutes in all the parishes of the country.

It was a dignified and appreciating and also very personal farewell to Bishop Fischer. The requiem was directed by Bishop Benno Elbs, Elmar Fischer’s former student and successor. “On behalf of the Diocese of Feldkirch, I would like to thank former Bishop Elmar Fischer for his service as a priest and bishop. With his many years of commitment, he has set important accents for the appreciation and support of families in our country,” Bishop Elbs praised him. Elmar Fischer’s predecessor, Bishop Klaus Küng, gave the sermon.
  “Bishop Elmar never thought of himself as something special, as particularly gifted, particularly skilled, particularly suited. He probably did not even consider himself particularly virtuous, but he had this desire to seek the Kingdom of God in everything,” Klaus Küng emphasised in his sermon.

Active participation in “Mut zur Ethik”

Since the founding of the working group “Mut zur Ethik” in 1993, Bishop Fischer, at that time still Vicar General, has attended and actively participated in the annual three-day congresses which took place in Feldkirch for many years (later in Switzerland).
  The basic concern of the congresses was, and still is, to work together on common ground and to let each other live in the smaller to medium differences. The common ground is the democratic rule of law and the long-standing values of Christian occidental culture. Bishop Fischer fully shared these basic concerns and lived great tolerance towards other religions and world views.
  “Mut zur Ethik” became a matter close to his heart, and whenever his limited time allowed, he came during the three days and listened closely, even if the various congress contributions often lasted up to late at night. Over the years, numerous contributions by him have also been published in Current Concerns. They include his impressive travel reports with deepening reflections from Guadelupe and from Brazil on the work of his friend Bishop Alfredo, who has been tirelessly taking care of street children there since 1984 under the most difficult conditions and has since been able to build up numerous social centres.

He made up his own mind

The then Bishop of Feldkirch, Klaus Küng, had asked his Vicar General Fischer, to participate in the congress after the initiator of “Mut zur Ethik”, Dr Annemarie Buchholz-Kaiser, and some colleagues had presented the basic concern of the congresses to him. It was a very difficult time for us at that time. Topics such as ethical foundations, preservation of values, family, education, drugs, law were not “politically correct” for some even then, and the congress was initially subjected to fierce attacks, including in the media.
  Elmar Fischer was not impressed by the barrage of the media, he made up his own mind, and obviously he liked the contents of the congresses. At the annual congresses, he often came for a coffee before the start in our specially equipped coffee shop at the Montforthaus in Feldkirch and enjoyed the exchange and also the selection from the vast quantities of homemade cakes that he could savour.
  Without having to step into the foreground, he showed interest in all the congress activities. The enthusiastic sportsman was happy to share his experiences of climbing, hiking, ski tours and table tennis. He then listened attentively to the various congress contributions before making his own.
  Whenever he was able, he personally held the Sunday service for the congress participants in the Feldkirch Cathedral.
  In 2015, when reading the final version of the “Manifesto for Europe – We want a Europe of peace and justice!”, Elmar Fischer spontaneously and loudly exclaimed: “I fully support that.”

Rich wealth of experience from practical activity

He knew how to fruitfully combine his core issues of marriage and family, youth, love, human education, being human with a view to world events and with his Christian beliefs.
  The development of the human being towards humanity (ability to love and live) was a great concern of Elmar Fischer. In doing so, he was able to draw on his rich wealth of experience as a teacher, boarding school director and marriage, family and life counsellor. Bishop Elmar Fischer also stood as a psychotherapist and family counsellor in the tradition of the Catholic doctrine of faith, which has reconciled itself with the secular human sciences and applies their insights into the human being for the benefit of those seeking advice. “Person – comprehensive appreciation of being human” was the title of his lecture at “Mut zur Ethik” in 2017: “There I think it is simply happiness when we know from our faith that we have an ideology that can bring people together, without injustice, of course with the difficulties that can exist. But ultimately with the orientation that we deal with each other on an equal footing and that in this way we can also build a society that can get by without big wars, but can level out inequalities with negotiation, with dialogue and with these means. That in this way we have the possibility to create a world that serves peace and that is oriented towards peace. From my point of view and my experience, I would therefore like to point this out again: This conference, which is taking place here, which always has this orientation, serves this goal and thus has a worldwide significance, a world-historical significance. It is a very essential contribution to what today’s world needs for survival.”
  Bishop Fischer was a great support and enrichment to our working group “Mut zur Ethik” over the many years, both professionally and personally, for which we thank him from the bottom of our hearts. We will honour his memory.  •

“Seek the kingdom of God – in everything! The other things will be added to you”

Elmar Fischer was born in 1936 in Feldkirch-Tisis, Austria. From 1950 to 1955 he attended the teacher training college in Feldkirch; then he studied philosophy and Catholic theology at the University of Innsbruck until 1962. In 1969 he was awarded a doctorate in theology. He was ordained priest on 29 June 1961. From 1970 to 1982 he was the director of the diocesan boarding school Marianum in Bregenz and from 1974 to 1990 director of the diocesan Training Institute for Marriage, Family and Life Counselling. From 1979 to 1990 he directed the Marriage and Family Centre of the Diocese of Feldkirch (EFZ). In 1989 he was appointed Vicar General of the Diocese of Feldkirch by Bishop Klaus Küng. Pope John Paul II awarded him the title of Papal Prelate of Honour on 27 February 1990. In 1991, he was officially entered in the state register of psychotherapists. On 24 May 2005, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Bishop of Feldkirch. He chose his episcopal motto from the Gospel of Matthew: “Seek the kingdom of God – in everything! The other things will be added to you”.
  After his retirement in 2011, he lived in Hittisau in the Bregenz Forest, where he ran a spiritual centre together with the Sisters of the Order of the Servants of the Blood of Christ. Bishop Fischer had helped the order to achieve ecclesiastical recognition, and the sisters thanked him for this with their devoted care until the end.

Living dialogue!

“Dialogue requires personal commitment. In these conversations, it is always about communicating one’s own point of view to the other in an understandable and open manner, to take up the other’s opinion without bias, to clarify differences and points of agreement, to deal with differences of opinion in such a way that factual differences do not undermine human esteem, that even human differences of attitude are still dealt with respect, that ultimately the truth is sought by the dialogue partners.
  Dialogue is a way of dealing with each other that demands all of us as human beings. It must not be a mere conversation or communication technique, not a ‘means to an end’. For this very reason, it is always a profound challenge to the image of man, especially when it is meant to turn conflicts into peace, when differences of opinion cannot be overcome.
  Living dialogue needs commitment. However, it creates meaning, brings values, and therefore carries within it the constructive energy of genuine humanity.”

From the lecture by Bishop Elmar Fischer at the congress “Strengthening People – Living Democracy, Values, Education and Dialogue” from 3 to 5 September 2004 in Feldkirch/Vorarlberg

(Translation Current Concerns)

“Something that was very much Elmar’s nature was his sense of humour.”

“It is a personal matter for me to still say thank you to Bishop Elmar. The first encounter I had with him was when I was ten years old and a homesick pupil at the Marianum, when he was the director and ran the boarding school there. [...] Over there by the grave I remembered various situations beforehand that we went through together, quite beautiful ones, but also some that were not entirely easy for either of us during those years. But one thing that was very characteristic of Elmar was his sense of humour. There were hardly any situations where there wasn’t something somewhere that lightened up a situation, that made it possible for us to move on together. [...] He was a person who tried very hard to understand things, to understand life, to understand theology, to understand psychology, the attitude of man.”

Bishop Benno Elbs, personal thanks, Feldkirch, 28 January 2022

(Translation Current Concerns)

“A great concern for him were young people”

“He liked to go climbing, and I accompanied him a few times. [...] Young people were a big concern for him. He studied at the teacher training college. He came from a family of teachers, and that certainly gave his life a direction, to have a pedagogical goal. [...] He once told me that in his first year as a religion teacher, he was voted the most popular teacher by the pupils. He was sporty, he was young, it made him happy of course, but it also made him think whether he was perhaps demanding too little of the pupils and he then tightened the reins. That’s Elmar Fischer. [...] That’s how I got to know and appreciate him, as straightforward with a focus on the essentials. [...] Someone who definitely saw the difficulties and problems and named them with openness. He was sincere and loyal. A very good colleague, and he was also my friend, with the difficult tasks and also on the mountain. And I am still very grateful to him today.”

Bishop Klaus Küng, excerpt from the Sermon, Feldkirch, 28 January 2022

(Translation Current Concerns)

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