Perched atop Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, just outside the walls of the Old City, the Benedictine Dormition Abbey (the mother abbey of Weston Priory in Vermont) has long been a place of informal encounters among all residents of the city. Through its concert series held monthly in the basilica, the Benedictine monks have brought adherents of various traditions and many tourists to their monastery to be inspired by the beauty of the music and the monastery. They also have quietly hosted other ecumenical meetings, peace dialogues and interreligious gatherings over the years. But following the outbreak of the second intifada, the monks sensed an urgent need for a more formalized format for peace encounters as a response to the suffering in the Holy Land, said Johannes Oravecz, a Benedictine priest who is a monk at the abbey and director of the new Beit Benedict Peace Academy , as the abbey announced plans for the new institute. With the increasing level of violence and the ever-growing impasse in Palestinian-Israeli dialogue, the monks felt an urgent need to do more. So in 2003, at the height of the intifada, when they presented their annual peace award to two young peacemakers—one Israeli and one Palestinian—the monks realized that they were in a unique position to create a peace academy at a site where both Israelis and Palestinians felt safe and were comfortable to meet.Polish Archbishop Denounces Anti-Semitism
A Polish archbishop said the Catholic Church must not accept anti-Semitism within its ranks, calling it “irrational behavior.” Archbishop Jozef Zycinski of Lublin spoke to Catholic News Service  during a conference in Jerusalem on Nov. 30-Dec. 1 that focused on the relationships among the Polish Catholic Church, Jews and Israel. “In the case of Lublin...we emphasize that [the Jews] were present in our life, in cultural solidarity. It is part of our cultural heritage,” he said. Some anti-Semitic incidents show a “generational problem” and a problem of “social frustration” more than a cultural phenomenon, he said. He cited as an example the issue of Radio Maryja’s Tadeusz Rydzyk, a Redemptorist priest who has been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks and insulting the Polish president. Even the younger generation of Redemptorist priests are skeptical of Radio Maryja’s message, said Archbishop Zycinski, noting that the ideas predate the Second Vatican Council and that the followers are a minute percentage of the population.Thousands Attend Funeral of Mumbai Victim
Some 10,000 people attended the funeral of Jordon Fernandes, a 21-year-old Catholic who worked as a waiter at the Oberoi Hotel, one of two luxury hotels terrorists targeted in the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Fernandes was among the more than 170 people who died as terrorists sprayed bullets from assault rifles and exploded grenades at 11 locations in the city, India’s commercial capital, in late November. About 30 priests and 60 nuns joined mourners at his funeral on Nov. 29 at the Vasai Diocese’s Church of the Mother of God, about 30 miles north of Mumbai. “God gave me a son and God has taken him away,” Fernandes’s mother, Collette, 50, told UCA News Dec. 1. “We have forgiven the terrorists. But my son was too young to die like this.”
Fernandes had a degree in hotel management, and Nov. 30 was to be his last day working at the hotel before taking up a new job as an assistant steward in a hotel in Australia.Pope Requests More Aid for Christians in Holy Land
Pope Benedict XVI asked the knights and dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem  to continue praying and working to help Christians in the Holy Land, who are “burdened by an uncertain and dangerous climate.” The pope met Dec. 5 with 125 leaders of the chivalric organization, which is dedicated to supporting the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and to responding to the needs of Catholics in the Holy Land.
Cardinal John P. Foley, grand master of the order, told Pope Benedict that in the last eight years the 23,000 knights and dames had donated almost $50 million to the Catholic Church and its institutions in the Holy Land. “The major part of these schools and institutions serve not only Catholics from the Latin Patriarchate, but all Christians and, in reality, the entire population—Christians, Muslims and Jews,” the cardinal said.Ugandan Archbishop Criticizes Military
Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, said that using the military to pursue the rebel leader Joseph Kony after he failed to sign a peace agreement with the Ugandan government is not a good solution. Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has engaged the Ugandan government in war in northern Uganda since 1986, was supposed to sign the peace agreement on Nov. 29 in southern Sudan but failed to appear. Uganda’s President Yoweri Muse-veni had warned earlier that Kony’s failure to sign the agreement would result in his being hunted by Ugandan, Sudanese and Congolese forces. In an interview with Catholic News Service on Dec. 2, Archbishop Odama, returning from Sudan, said Kony needs another chance. “The road to violence in engaging rebel Kony in war will lead us to more loss of lives of innocent people living around him [in Sudan] and all people who are in the vicinity where [his] people are dwelling,” said Archbishop Odama, whose archdiocese is in northern Uganda.Alexy II, Head of Russian Orthodox Church, Dies
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow, died Dec. 5 at his home outside the Russian capital. He was 79. Although the cause of his death was not immediately made public, he had suffered from a heart condition and had been ill for some time. Patriarch Alexy led the world’s largest Orthodox church since 1990. As primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, the patriarch was the spiritual leader of more than 110 million church members in Russia, the former Soviet republics and the diaspora. He led the church through the difficult transition from the end of Soviet repression to an era of religious freedom and sought to revitalize traditional religious values in a society that was still grappling with the aftereffects of totalitarianism and the impact of newfound freedoms. Pope Benedict XVI praised the patriarch’s efforts “for the rebirth of the church after the severe ideological oppression which led to the martyrdom of so many witnesses to the Christian faith.”California Bishops Urge Tolerance in Dispute
San Francisco’s archbishop has appealed to people on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue to be tolerant of each other, to “disagree without being disagreeable” and not presume to know “the real motives” behind people’s viewpoints. “We need to stop hurling names like ‘bigot’ and ‘pervert’ at each other. And we need to stop it now,” Archbishop George H. Niederauer said Dec. 1 in an open letter. California voters on Nov. 4 passed a ballot initiative called Proposition 8, which is a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as only “valid and recognized” if between a man and a woman. Since Election Day there have been vigorous protests against the outcome in California and around the country by gay rights supporters. Some of the demonstrations have targeted churches and in particular Mormon temples, because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  was a major funder of a campaign supporting the measure. The Catholic Church and other denominations also supported it. In a message to homosexual Catholics in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said the recent vote in California defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman “does not diminish in any way [your] importance” nor “lessen your personal dignity and value as full members of the body of Christ.”Catholic Charities USA Named Top Provider
Catholic Charities USA  is the country’s top voluntary provider of social services, according to Charity Navigator ’s Holiday Giving Guide 2008 . The Catholic agency, based in Alexandria, Va., also finished second overall in The NonProfit Times ’s “Top 100” list of the country’s largest charities and 11th in the most recent Philanthropy 400 ranking by The Chronicle of Philanthropy . The Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, welcomed the recognition.