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Christmas in Beijing

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BEIJING -- We knew that Christmas was in the air as we walked into the Beijing Capital International Airport, not only because it was December but also because of the huge and elegant nativity scene and Christmas decorations that adorned the airport's arrival hall.

Why is the Chinese government celebrating Christmas? Is this not the same people who persecuted, tortured and expelled Christians? Is this not the same regime which crushed all forms of religious expressions during the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution? Is this not the country whose synonyms are communist and atheist?

Vatican urges Australian bishops to continue work for asylum seekers

PERTH, Australia -- The Vatican has urged Australia's Catholic bishops to persist with their "generous and passionate work" for asylum seekers after at least 48 of them were killed off Christmas Island Dec. 15.

Archbishop Antonio Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, and Father Gabriele Bentoglio, undersecretary of the pontifical council, sent the letter of encouragement Dec. 17 to Bishop Joseph Grech of Sandhurst, the Australian bishops' delegate for migration issues.

On Dec. 15, 48 asylum seekers -- believed to be mostly Iraqi and Iranian -- drowned off Christmas Island after their boat crashed into cliffs in stormy seas. The Australian Navy rescued 42 survivors, and the Australian Federal Police are investigating the actions of three Indonesian crewmen in connection with the incident.

A survivor told Australian newspaper publisher News Limited Dec. 20 that there were about 80 people on board, including 30 children.

More than 2,000 people are being held in an immigration detention facility on Christmas Island, more than 1,600 miles northwest of Perth.

Australian bishops question returning asylum seekers to Afghanistan

PERTH, Australia -- The same day that up to 50 asylum seekers drowned off the coast of Australia, the nation's Catholic bishops questioned the planned repatriation of more than 300 ethnic Hazara asylum seekers to Afghanistan.

The Australian newspaper reported Dec. 14 that the government was on the verge of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Afghanistan government to allow the repatriation of the Hazaras to their troubled home country.

Bishop Joseph Grech of Sandhurst, the Australian bishops' delegate for migration issues, said in a Dec. 15 statement it seemed premature to be discussing repatriation to Afghanistan, "which is widely considered to be extremely dangerous."

This is especially the case, he said, considering that, until September, there was a freeze on asylum claims from Afghanistan.

Scalabrinian Fr. Maurizio Pettena, director of the Australian bishops' Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, said there was not enough information to make a decision to repatriate so many.

Turkish church fears cover-up over bishopís murder

WARSAW -- The head of Turkey’s Roman Catholic bishops conference has rejected medical findings that the man who brutally murdered his predecessor, Bishop Luigi Padovese, was insane.

“The Turkish Justice Minister seemed quite sincere when he promised the truth—but our church is being silenced by this manipulation of the court and public opinion,” said Ruggero Franceschini, the Archbishop of Izmir.

Franceschini was reacting to the report by a medical panel in the southern town of Adana, published in Turkey’s Hurriyet daily newspaper on Dec. 1, which said Padovese’s killer, Murat Altun, was mentally unbalanced when he stabbed the cleric in June. In an interview with the Rome-based AsiaNews agency, Franceschini said the finding by “professors and lawyers” contradicts a separate medical report on Altun before the murder, which had declared him of sound mind.

“Unfortunately I cannot speak in court,” Franceschini told AsiaNews. He said the doubts and suspicions among local Catholics appear to have been ignored.

Between a lifestyle and a life

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COLUMN

There is a young man in Haiti who is trying to come to the United States. We are trying to help him. January will mark one year since we started the application process for Winddcheley’s student visa.

My husband and I made an appointment to talk to Winddcheley on Saturday morning. We are driving to Denver, and my husband’s Blackberry is synced with his in-car phone system. The audio is set for speakerphone. I have the passenger seat warmer on high to ease the ache in my lower back. I have a bottle of water. While we are waiting for the call we listen to the Sinatra channel on our satellite radio.

We know that Winddcheley is walking to an Internet café near Port-au-Prince. He will pay to use the Internet. He will spend money on this phone call today, and no money on food. Winddcheley does not eat every day. He is always hungry. He hopes the Internet will be up and working at the café. He hopes he won’t walk for nothing. It is no small thing to expend calories one doesn’t have.

An 'intercessor with Muslims'

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Almost 10 years after the attack on the World Trade Center, one thing is clear: In New York City and elsewhere, fear continues to guide many people’s views of Muslims. Is there an alternative pathway to living in peace with Muslims?

Two Catholic women, Erin von Uffel and Lorraine Fusaro, longtime friends and residents of Long Island, N.Y., believe they have identified a way to model peaceful coexistence and respect between Christians and Muslims.

As vote nears, Sudan's possible border area tense

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MALAKAL, Southern Sudan -- As January's referendum on independence for Southern Sudan approaches, tensions are running high in communities along what many expect will become a new international border with northern Sudan.

Packed buses arrive in Malakal daily with southerners coming home from the North. Church workers report the exodus is fueled by the fear of being attacked should the South vote to separate.

Similarly afraid in any possible post-referendum violence, Arab traders in the town's market are closing their shops and heading North, causing the price of basic commodities to rise as the flow of commercial goods from Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, grinds to a halt.

Armies from the two sides, camped out here in close proximity, eye each other with mistrust. On the local base of a joint military force -- comprising soldiers from both the northern Sudan Armed Forces and the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army -- rumors run rampant of post-referendum alliances and betrayals.

154-year-old American seminary in Belgium to close

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LEUVEN, BELGIUM -- The American College of Louvain, the seminary the U.S. bishops have administered in Leuven, Belgium, since 1857, will close at the end of this academic year. The decision to close the school in June 2011 was made by the board of bishops of the American College and was confirmed last month during the U.S. bishops’ annual fall meeting.

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