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Day one of Sudan vote peaceful - and hopeful

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Juba, Sudan
Juba Archbishop Paolino Lukudu Loro was smiling after casting his vote late Sunday afternoon towards the end of the first day of a weeklong referendum that will likely lead southern Sudan to split from the North.

Southern Sudanese packed the polls all day Sunday and so far, fears about violence or voter tampering appeared to be unrealized.

“Everybody is just very happy and very peaceful,” said Mr. Loro, as he prepared to leave the polling place, the Hai Jelaba Basic School. He gestured towards the crowd of roughly hundred men and women waiting patiently in line. “They don’t want any war or any trouble. They want peace. And I think these people have decided to live their own lives as Africans and as peacefully as possible.

As Sudan vote begins, fears of violence seem unrealized

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JUBA, SUDAN -- Paolino Lukudu Loro, the Archbishop of Juba, was smiling after casting his vote late Sunday afternoon here, towards the end of the first day of a weeklong referendum that will likely lead southern Sudan to split from the northern part of the country.

Southern Sudanese packed the polls all day Sunday and so far, fears about violence or other tampering appeared to be unrealized.

“Everybody is just very happy and very peaceful,” said Loro, as he prepared to leave the polling place, the Hai Jelaba Basic School. He gestured towards the crowd of roughly hundred men and women waiting patiently in line. “They don’t want any war or any trouble. They want peace. And I think these people have decided to live their own lives as Africans and as peacefully as possible.

In Juba, the capital of the region, the day was marked by a large and vibrant celebration at the polling place located near the burial site of John Garang, considered southern Sudan’s founder.

On eve of Sudan vote, Cardinal tells Catholics: 'Stay involved'

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JUBA, SUDAN -- Nearly four million Sudanese began voting today in a referendum that could bring a new country into being. The polls opened around 8 a.m. local time here in south Sudan, roughly the size of France.

Last night, on the eve of the momentous vote, South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier advised Sudan’s church leaders’ to remain actively engaged in state affairs.

Nigerian archbishop urges president to take action

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja urged Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to take bold steps to address the level of insecurity in the country.

Onaiyekan, former president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, spoke to journalists after a New Year's Eve bomb blast in his city and earlier violence and attacks in and around the city of Jos.

"What is expected of Jonathan's administration at the moment is clear, vivid and strict measures in tackling the continuous cases of bomb blasts in the country," the archbishop said.

He said that in dealing with issues of terrorism, politics should be separated from criminality. He added that suspects in terrorist acts are treated with kid gloves.

"If you bombed and killed people, that is criminal," he said. "If you carry bombs around and detonate them with the aim of killing and destroying not only persons ... but their properties, that is a criminal act that requires the prompt action in punishing the culprits."

Sudan's precarious vote on independence

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After decades of civil war, the people of southern Sudan face a referendum Jan. 9 on whether to remain united with the north as one country or secede and form their own separate nation.

An overwhelming vote in favor of independence is expected, but whichever way the vote goes, “Sudan will never be the same again, because the people have exercised their free and democratic choice,” the nation’s Catholic bishops said in a statement Nov. 14 during their plenary meeting in Rumbek in southern Sudan.

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.

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July 18-31, 2014

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