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Archive of January 4, 2011

Sudan in transition: An interview with Dan Griffin of Catholic Relief Services

Baltimore, Md., Jan 4, 2011 (CNA) - CNA recently spoke with Dan Griffin, Catholic Relief Services' Sudan adviser, about the Church's role in helping Sudanese citizens prepare for a referendum that could divide the war-torn country. Griffin is the main contact between the agency's U.S. headquarters, and agents on the ground in Sudan.

Griffin and other observers say the referendum could bring peace and freedom to the persecuted people of south Sudan. But it may also cause a wave of immigration authorities aren't prepared to handle, or even restart conflict in a region where two civil wars killed 2.5 million people between 1955 and 2005.

The Catholic Church is an important and trusted element of society in southern Sudan. Church leaders have been working hard to maintain peace between the northern and southern regions, and help voters understand the implications of the independence vote.

Griffin expects to be in Sudan during and after the Jan. 9-16 referendum. Before leaving, however, he found time to discuss the central concerns of the Sudanese Church and its international partners.

An edited transcript of CNA's interview with Dan Griffin is published below.


CNA: Why is the participation of the Church so important for the success of the referendum in January?

Griffin: The role of the Church is extremely important in educating people across southern Sudan about what the referendum means – not only the conduct of the referendum, but also its outcome.

In many parts of southern Sudan, because of a long history of un-development and underdevelopment, the Church is the last real vestige of civil society. It has a broader reach, geographically and across ethnic lines, than the government of southern Sudan does in some places.

So it's extremely important that the Church use its moral authority, its experience, and its networks, to provide accurate, timely information about the referendum: how it will be conducted, what are the consequences to it. The Church plays an immensely important role, because it's trusted by the people.

In southern Sudan, with such a large illiteracy rate –anywhere from 80 to 90 percent– there's a huge contribution the Church makes in the civic education of the electorate. It has done this historically, and in the referendum registration process. It will fulfill that same role in the actual referendum.

This is a real case of the Church providing the vision. The Church is leading the way, talking about a Sudan that doesn't exist yet– calling people to participate, and engage, in building a nation.


CNA: To what extent is the division between north and south Sudan a religious division? In what ways is the conflict between them a religious conflict?

There is an overlay of religion in it. Currently, the government in Khartoum describes Sudan as a Muslim, Arabic country. Whereas the reality is, Sudan's far more diverse. But it is important not to see Sudan just as “Arab vs. African” or “Muslim vs. Christian.”

It's more complicated than that, in that it's really about power and powerlessness: about power being retained and defined in Khartoum, and the other regions, the peripheries of Sudan, being excluded. Which is why you see conflict in the East, the West, as well as in the south.


CNA: You want the referendum to go well, to be legitimate, and to have a clear result. On the other hand, there is the possibility for none of those things to occur, or for some of them not to. It sounds like you're trying to keep things from spiraling out of control, if the vote doesn't proceed in that ideal way.

Absolutely. It could go badly. There's a real need to do everything possible to prepare the people, not just for the referendum, but the outcome. A new country could be formed on the African continent. And if this new country is born, the intention is to make sure that it's born into an environment of peace, so that it's able to survive and thrive– rather than being born into bloodshed and conflict, which would be extremely difficult for any country to survive.

We're not pushing for what the outcome of the referendum should be. That's for the Sudanese to decide. But the Church is very much certain that the people need to be able to make their choice. And that result has to be honored and upheld.

That's the question: will that happen? Will the government in Khartoum respect the expressed will of the southern Sudanese people? I think that remains to be seen. And that's what we are preparing for – if there's a large displacement, if there is a return to violence on the eve of the vote, or afterward.

In southern Sudan, a lot of people are not aware that freedom and secession and independence don't come on January 9 automatically. It is the beginning of a voting process, that should go for a week. And, should they win that process, it wouldn't be implemented until July 9, 2011. It's discouraging to find how few people are even aware of the discrepancy between what is on paper, what the U.N. has laid out as the process for this, and the understanding on the ground.

The big challenge now is to get accurate voter education done. That's what the Church is trying to do: to appeal to people for calm and patience. Not for a return to violence– should there not be, say, a polling place that actually opens around them on January 9. The pursuit of peace will perhaps take more time than what they've allowed. It is still better than a return to violence.


CNA: If southern Sudan secedes, some observers say this could result in persecution of southern Sudanese living in the north, which could in turn prompt mass immigration and cause a refugee crisis. Do you anticipate this kind of outcome?

It could happen – no one knows yet. We do know that anywhere from one to three thousand people are moving from the north into the south every day, which is a much larger and much earlier migration than anyone had anticipated.

But what will be the fate of the Church as it remains in northern Sudan? There's a lot of concern about the imposition of Sharia law—the legal system based upon the interpretation of the Koranic code—and that a very harsh interpretation would lead to further oppression of the Church and of minorities.

We can't be certain that it's going to happen. We're asking for guarantees of security, not only to the rights of people in the north, but their physical security. Because there are currently no protection forces whatsoever for the one-and-a-half to two-million ethnically-identified southerners, living in the north.

What happens to them? It could be an orchestrated backlash. In its worst-case scenario, it could be similar to what happened in Darfur. Or it could be spontaneous repercussions, antagonism toward southerners, even if it's not orchestrated by the state.


CNA: What measures are the Church leaders taking in order to prepare for these possibilities?

The Church has been extraordinarily active in advocacy. Two delegations of the Sudanese Church leadership came to the United States and to Europe, raising these issues and raising these alarms.

Their congregants, the people of Sudan, are concerned (about) what will happen next. Will the international community engage, to the point that there is –hopefully– monitoring and intervention? Or will they be abandoned to their fate? The Church has been the most vocal element of civil society– to raise those alarms, as well as engaging international actors and donors like the Caritas network, and Catholic Relief Services and others, to urgently help prepare them for emergency response.

Whether that's conflict mitigation, serving displaced peoples, everyone has been working extremely hard to prepare for a fundamental transformation of Sudan, without knowing exactly where and how that transformation will take place.

We do know that Sudan will be dramatically different in a matter of days. Not knowing what's going to happen obligates us to prepare for the worst, and that's exactly what the Sudanese Church and Church leadership have been doing now for quite some time.


CNA: One of the worst-case scenarios that one could imagine, would be a renewed war between the north and the south – either an independent south, or if somehow they voted for unity and then reverted to civil war. What do the bishops and other observers in the Church think about the possibility of such a war starting up again after the vote on independence?

That's certainly what they have always mentioned as the worst case scenario. But as they're quick to point out: because each side has spent a great deal of money and time arming themselves, it won't be a “return” to war; it will be a new war, which will probably be far more lethal, just as targeted against civilians. The casualties are often the people who are caught, or displaced, or starved.

It could be an escalated war, greater than what they fought last time. And it could draw in Sudan's nine neighbors– into what some analysts say could be the largest conventional war on the African continent.

If the referendum goes badly, the worst case scenario is the Horn of Africa destabilizing, and proxy wars that are ignited and played out across Sudan – a region of insecurity that would make Somalia and Yemen look manageable by comparison. That's certainly the worst-case scenario.

The Church has been very mindful that this could happen. They're not saying that it's likely, but that it is a possibility, that all steps have to be taken now to prevent it. Because we see it coming, because this is a time-bound conflict, we are obligated to do everything possible to prevent it.

Unlike a natural disaster, we know exactly when this referendum is scheduled to take place. So we have to prepare the people for this. We can't stand by and let another humanitarian catastrophe of this size unfold– anywhere in the world, particularly in Africa.


CNA: Right now, southern secession is considered very likely. However, if the option for Sudan to remain as one country were to win out, what do you think some of the results would be?

I firmly believe that the people of southern Sudan, in their hearts and minds, see themselves as a free and independent people, and they're waiting to assert that freedom and that independence. I think secession is all but inevitable in the outcome. Now we have to see whether the process is able to deliver that. Everything I have seen, and read, and everyone I've spoken to – there's an overwhelming sense that the south needs to move forward as an independent country.

People feel that they have exhausted any meaningful efforts at unity– especially with the death of Jon Garang [Southern Sudan's first president, after the region achieved a measure of autonomy from the north], the person most likely to be able to bring unity to Sudan. With his passing in 2005, I think, the real prospect of a unified Sudan went with him.

People feel that this vote on succession is as fundamentally transforming as the fall of apartheid was to South Africa. So, should this referendum not happen, I believe that the southerners would just continue the struggle. Politically, militarily, in whatever form it takes. They are prepared to keep moving forward until they achieve that measure of self-determination. It's too late for anything else to make sense to them.


CNA: Is it the case that this referendum will not change the status of the northern region of Darfur in any way?

Darfur is completely out of the picture. First of all, it was never part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, between northern and southern Sudan. But there's a lot of concern now, that the multiple conflicts in Sudan –unless they're addressed holistically, and comprehensively– will be allowed to play one off the other.

If the international community focuses on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, what happens to Darfur? There is some concern that without international scrutiny or witness, return to violence could happen in Darfur. But of course, it's not part of the CPA and it's not part of southern secession. It's a related but completely separate conflict.

By any drawing, of any boundary, Darfur is historically, culturally, geographically, very different from southern Sudan.


CNA: Southern Sudan has significant problems of its own, including the lack of development and problems with its current government. How is the Church trying to help the south develop and ensure good governance?

The Church has been absolutely instrumental in raising the voice of civil society. There have been a series of meetings –called “Kajiko,” named after the town where this dialogue initially happened– where Church leadership has met with the government of southern Sudan's leadership, to talk about service provision, diversity, non-violent conflict transformation, the need for transparency in government, all of these things that we assume to be part of good governance.

Until there's a strong civil society, I think much of that falls on the Church. So the Church has been very instrumental in raising some of these challenges that the government of southern Sudan faces– moving from a rebel guerrilla movement, to a centralized democracy, in just a matter of five years.

There's also an advocacy piece, too. Because there's a great deal of commentary and analysis that says: “Well, the south is bound to fail, they're a 'pre-failed' state, they won't be able to govern themselves; they're wholly dependent on oil, they're decentralized, corruption is rampant, capacity is extremely limited; the ethnic tensions and the lack of development mean that Sudan is going to be the next Somalia, driven by ethnically identified clans or warlords.”

The Church, I think, has a more pragmatic view, in explaining that there are no guarantees that the people of southern Sudan will be able to move forward peacefully and successfully. But they have every right to try.

When our own country, the United States, declared our independence, how prepared were we? What U.N. guarantees did we have? What binding organization did we have? Or did our leadership make the decision that we, as a people, needed to declare and pursue our own independence? They're asking for that same right, that same opportunity.

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Pakistani governor’s murder causes shock, pessimism about end to blasphemy law

Lahore, Pakistan, Jan 4, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The assassination of a Pakistani governor who opposed the country’s blasphemy law will make it “virtually impossible” for anyone to speak out against it, the Archbishop of Lahore has warned.

On Jan. 4 Punjab governor Salman Taseer was shot by one of his own guards in Islamabad as he was leaving his car near a shopping center. The gunman told police he killed Taseer because of the governor’s opposition to the blasphemy law. According to Minorities Concern of Pakistan, police have arrested six others in connection with the crime.

Governor Taseer had sought a pardon for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death under the blasphemy law on what her lawyers say are fabricated charges. The politician's killer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, also cited Taseer’s visit to Bibi and his declaration of her innocence as a motive.

Punjab is Pakistan’s most populous province, having about 56 percent of the country’s total population. About 80 percent of Pakistan’s Christians live in Punjab.

“We were very shocked to hear the news,” Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha of Lahore told Vatican Radio. “We feel that this is definitely a move against those who are opposing the blasphemy law.”

The governor was “a quite outstanding critic” of the blasphemy law and had called for its repeal several times.

The archbishop expressed the Catholic Church’s sadness at his murder. He reported that there is increasing intolerance of any form of dissent in Pakistan and less hope that the blasphemy law may be overturned.

He also characterized the government as “lame duck,” without the power to legislate after a main coalition partner of the Pakistani government left the coalition on Jan. 3.

Meanwhile, radical Islamic groups have called nationwide strikes to counter any effort to repeal the blasphemy law.

“Initially when the High Court sentenced Asia Bibi to death, many members of civil society spoke out against this law and there was a general sense that it needed to be repealed. Now that tide has turned,” Archbishop Saldanha said.

Catholics feel increasing marginalized, he explained, and have had to increase security around churches especially during Christmas.

“While there was some hope before that things may change, now with the government virtually a lame duck, that hope has gone,” he stated.

He said Catholics “live from day to day, hoping and praying and quietly going about their business. And not making any waves. Certainly the mood is very gloomy, and there is fear and tension. But at the same time, they come to church and they get an uplifted feeling.”

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Archdiocese of Mexico City denounces city officials' intolerance

Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 4, 2011 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Mexico City's weekly newspaper published an editorial criticizing the city's officials for their intolerance and for persecuting people of faith in 2010.

The editorial specifically referred to the officials' responses to those opposing the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage on the basis of religious principles and convictions. 

“This is not happening in any other part of the country, only in the Federal District, where officials have made intolerant secularism their sole ‘religion,’ carrying out ‘secular’ rites against true religions,” the newspaper said in a Jan. 2 editorial.

Those who express their opposition to such measures on the basis of their Christian faith are “threatened with lawsuits,” including priests and bishops, the archdiocesan newspaper continued. It then pointed to the cases of Cardinal Juan Sandoval of Guadalajara and the spokesman of the Archdiocese of Mexico City, Fr. Hugo Valdemar.

The editorial also referred to Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the World Day of Peace on Jan. 1, in which he noted, “The same determination that condemns every form of fanaticism and religious fundamentalism must also oppose every form of hostility to religion that would restrict the public role of believers in civil and political life.  It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity.”

Nevertheless, “Desde la Fe” warned, some officials in the Federal District behave like a sort of “secular Taliban” with no tolerance for criticism and are “fundamentalist in their immoral principles, incapable of accepting the challenge of dialogue with rationality and the law.”

“The authoritarianism and intolerance (which border on disrespect and vulgarity) with which those who are in authority behave is not a good sign” for the future of Mexico City, the newspaper said.  “The legalism in which they cloak themselves is only another sign of their intolerance,” the editorial asserted.

“Desde la Fe” also mentioned religious persecution in countries such as Iraq, and even in Europe, where it occurs “under the guise of defending the secular state.”

“If respect for religious freedom is the path towards peace, that means that every believing citizen has the right not only to personally live in accord with his own religious principles, but to have those principles respected so that he can make a positive contribution to building up the society to which he belongs,” the editorial stated.

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Bishops of Chile oppose bill lifting abortion restrictions

Santiago, Chile, Jan 4, 2011 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Chile recently expressed opposition to a bill that would legalize abortion in some cases. The bishops explained that the procedure can never be justified medically because it directly harms the dignity of the human person.

In a statement released Dec. 28, the bishops responded to a bill that would legalize abortion to save the life of the mother, in cases or rape, or allow the procedure in cases of fetal deformity.

“Situations like these, while rare, are a source of anguish, uncertainty and sorrow that must not be met with indifference,” they said.

Abortion has been against the law in Chile since 1989.

However, they continued, it is not licit to take the life of the unborn even in these circumstances.  “Neither the life of the mother nor that of the child can be the object of a direct act of elimination. There is only one option for both one and the other: every effort must be made to save both lives, that of the mother and that of the child,” the bishops said.

“This does not signify opposition, however, to licit therapeutic actions to cure the mother of some illness, even if that implies a certain risk—even lethal—to the unborn child.  A therapeutic action that benefits the mother and that unintentionally puts the life of the unborn in danger should not be confused with the direct elimination of the unborn child,” the bishops added.

A developing unborn child is not part of a woman’s body, but rather is a distinct and separate being, the bishops emphasized.  While the mother’s feelings are deserving of care and respect, they noted, “no feeling must given more importance than the right to life of every human being, whether healthy or sick.

“This is the first of all human rights without which no others exist,” they said.

The bishops urged society to provide “psychological, social, economic and spiritual help” to mothers.  “The level of development of a community is measured by its capacity to care for the weak and the sick,” they added.

“A society that eliminates them allows violence to become the way in which conflicts are resolved, thus becoming a dictatorship in which the strongest end up deciding the fate of the weakest. No one has the right to assume the power of deciding who deserves to live and who doesn’t,” the bishops concluded.

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Apologetics conference targets challenges of ‘post-Christian’ America

Irvine, Calif., Jan 4, 2011 (CNA) - The California-based Napa Institute will hold its first annual apologetics conference July 28-30 on the theme “Catholics in the Next America.” The gathering aims to help participants respond to the moral and spiritual challenges of America’s emerging “post-Christian” culture.

The conference will take place in Napa Valley at the Meritage Resort & Spa. The term apologetics refers to giving a defense of the Catholic faith.

Several members of the Catholic hierarchy will speak during the conference and celebrate Mass. Speakers also include priests, religious and lay leaders.

Conference organizers said the event will feature perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, daily Mass, and a sacred music concert alongside fellowship with other Catholics.

Speakers include Cardinal Roger Mahony and Coadjutor Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Fr. Robert J. Spitzer of the Magis Institute and Mother Assumpta of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Commentator George Weigel and Prof. Timothy Gray of the Augustine Institute will also speak at the event.

Breakout sessions will allow conference participants to engage in personal discussions with the speakers.

The Napa Institute said it exists to “promote excellence in Catholic thought and apologetics” and to instill “a new zeal for Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith in all its participants.” The conference is one of its key tools to advance this mission.

More information on the conference is at available at the institute’s website www.napa-institute.org.

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Church's role is critical in run-up to Sudan independence vote

Baltimore, Md., Jan 4, 2011 (CNA) - Sudan's Catholic bishops say their country “will never be the same again,” once a January 2011 referendum that could split Africa's largest country in two takes place. Leading up to the vote, the Sudanese Catholic Church is playing a central role in preparing the country for the vote and its possible consequences.

“This is a real case of the Church providing the vision,” said Dan Griffin, Catholic Relief Services' Sudan adviser. Griffin is the agency's main contact between its U.S. headquarters and agents on the ground in Sudan. In the run up to the referendum, he said, “the Church is leading the way, talking about a Sudan that doesn't exist yet – calling people to participate, and engage, in building a nation.” 

Most southern Sudanese are said to support full independence from the northern half of Africa's largest country. The ethnically- and religiously-divided nation fought two civil wars –from 1955 to 1972, and again between 1983 and 2005– that left an estimated 2.5 million people dead, and failed to resolve political disputes dating back more than a century.

Sudanese northerners, who are mostly Arab and Muslim, have long attempted to control the resource-rich south, particularly after Sudan gained independence from joint British and Egyptian rule in 1956.

These aspirations have often led to armed conflict with the south, where a myriad of non-Arabic tribes typically practice either Christianity or traditional native religions.

“Currently, the government in Khartoum (the capital) describes Sudan as a Muslim, Arabic country,” Griffin said. “The reality is, Sudan's far more diverse.” While some southern Sudanese factions have historically fought for the goal of a unified Sudan without Islamist rule, others have focused recently on achieving independence from the north, which they see as intractably committed to Sharia law.

Although religious differences have frequently fueled the conflict, Griffin pointed out that there were “multiple reasons” other than religion, for the historic division between the north and the south. The deeper conflict, he said, is “about power and powerlessness.” Currently, power is being retained and defined in Khartoum, but the other regions, “the peripheries of Sudan, (are) being excluded.”

While southern Sudan achieved a measure of political autonomy in a 2005 peace treaty, the region has not made comparable progress on many of its own internal problems. These include a serious lack of infrastructure, extreme poverty and illiteracy, and corruption –or even absence– of government at the local level. These conditions, Griffin said, have forced the Church into a leadership role.

“In many parts of southern Sudan,” he noted, “because of a long history of un-development and underdevelopment, the Church … is the last real vestige of civil society.” In parts of the south, the Church can communicate and work across ethnic and geographical boundaries more readily than southern Sudan's own autonomous government.

In such areas, it falls to the Church to “provide accurate, timely information about the referendum,” and also to build connections and trust between different elements of southern Sudanese society. In these areas, Griffin said, “the Church plays an immensely important role, because it's trusted by the people.”

Sudan's Catholic bishops have not taken a position on the question of full independence for the south. Rather, their priorities are to help voters understand the implications of their decision, and to ensure that the referendum takes place peacefully, fairly, and on schedule. The larger goal, Griffin said, was to make sure the vote and its results would not re-ignite historic conflicts.

At worst, the referendum's results could prompt a third Sudanese civil war– “far more lethal” than the first two, in Griffin's estimation, and “just as targeted against civilians.” Such a war, he predicted, would involve not only Sudan's north and south, but the nine neighboring countries, in what “could be the largest conventional war on the African continent.”

That result, in turn, could de-stabilize large portions of East Africa, immersing other countries in “proxy wars that are ignited and played out across Sudan.” This “worst-case scenario,” according to Griffin, “would make Somalia and Yemen look manageable by comparison.”

Church leaders, he said, have been “very mindful that this could happen,” and consider it their moral obligation to prevent a third civil war. “We've been able to get out and make a lot of interventions, in terms of emergency preparation, conflict mitigation, and peace training. We've been doing this now for more than a year, through the Church networks.”

“Unlike a natural disaster, we know exactly when this referendum is scheduled to take place. So we have to prepare the people for this. We can't stand by and let another humanitarian catastrophe of this size unfold– anywhere in the world, particularly in Africa.” 

Griffin recalled that throughout Advent of 2010, Church leaders had continually sought to “appeal to people for calm and patience, not for a return to violence.” He described these messages as “extremely important in giving people an alternate vision (other) than an automatic return to war,” to build confidence that the southern Sudanese “can pursue their rights and self-determination non-violently.”

While a return to civil war is the worst-case scenario, it is not the only possibility that Sudanese leaders and international observers fear. The government in Khartoum has recently indicated it will seek to solidify its Muslim identity, through an increased use of Sharia law, in the event of a southern secession. Popular outrage could also turn against ethnic and religious “southerners” in the north.

Through direct diplomacy and international advocacy, the Sudanese bishops have sought “guarantees of security, not only to the rights of people in the north, but their physical security,” Griffin noted.  Such guarantees are urgently necessary, because there are “currently no protection forces whatsoever for the one-and-a-half to two-million ethnically-identified southerners, living in the north.”

In the absence of such protection, huge numbers of people –around 2,000 a day, Griffin estimated– are migrating from the north to the south, which may be severely unprepared to handle the influx of refugees.

Again, the local Church –in collaboration with agencies such as Catholic Relief Services and Caritas–  will have to provide whatever accommodation it can, stepping in where the government cannot. 

“Until there's a strong civil society, I think much of that falls on the Church,” Griffin said. He reflected that the southern Sudanese administration has faced tremendous challenges in “moving from a rebel guerrilla movement, to a centralized democracy” in only five years.

Some observers believe the south has not handled such transitions well enough to take the more radical step of independence. But Church leaders, who know the southern administration's deficiencies from experience, have judged that the independence vote must nevertheless take place.

The referendum is, among other things, a central condition in the 2005 peace agreement between the north and south– such that it must take place for that treaty's peace process to continue. “There are no guarantees that the people of southern Sudan will be able to move forward peacefully and successfully,” Griffin acknowledged. But under the peace treaty, “they have every right to try.”

“People feel that they have exhausted any meaningful efforts at unity,” he said. “The people of southern Sudan have, in their hearts and minds, turned that corner. They see themselves as a free and independent people, and they're waiting to assert that freedom and that independence.”

Assuming the week-long referendum's results are clear and legitimate, they will not actually take full effect until July of 2011. Whatever the outcome, Griffin said, “we do know that Sudan will be dramatically different” after Jan. 9. 

“Not knowing what's going to happen obligates us to prepare for the worst,” he said, “and that's exactly what the Sudanese Church and (international) Church leadership have been doing now for quite some time.”

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Spain dedicates World Cup trophy to St. James

Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Jan 4, 2011 (CNA/Europa Press) - The president of the Spanish soccer association, Angel Maria Villar, and the coach of Spain’s national team, Vicente del Bosque, dedicated the country's World Cup trophy to St. James the Apostle on Dec. 27.

The Spanish soccer team won the World Cup in South Africa in July 2010.

Villa spoke at the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela and referred to the Spanish soccer team's devotion to the apostle.  He recalled that during his last visit to the cathedral in April 2010 he prayed for the success of the team at the World Cup.

“We asked a lot from you, but we trusted that you would hear our prayers. And you did.  We are here today with the World Cup in our hands to dedicate it to you, St. James, because you helped us to become world champions,” Villa said.

“We have come here as victors of the World Cup, traveling down different roads from the ones you crossed on your way to Galicia ... Our paths have been different and we have traveled them in faraway lands, 12 hours and thousands of miles away by plane, in South Africa, a land our soccer team barely knew, and yet a land in which our soccer team experienced its greatest glory,” Villa said.

He noted that the 2010 victory was an achievement the country had only dreamed of since 1934.  “We had won many other tournaments – almost all of them.  We had triumphed in the greatest of soccer matches but not in the World Cup,” he added.

“We put everything we had into it, every human and technological resource at our disposal, as well as an unbeatable group of players, a truly golden generation.  We tied up every lose end, and we prayed to you for victory. It was very difficult.  We faced great rivals.  But we had faith in you, St. James, and in the quality of our players and their coaches.”

On July 11, he continued, “all of our dreams came true.  Millions of fans came to watch inspired by a fantastic group of players.  We made our way through the World Cup, in suffering and in joy, but always with faith and hope and convinced that in the end, the victory could be ours. And it was.”

For this reason, the players have returned with the trophy they won “through great effort and brilliance,” he continued.  “We won it by following the paths you showed us 2,000 years ago.  These paths are none other than those of humility, kindness, generosity, solidarity, patience, temperance, faith and hope in what we are doing.  Thus we traveled to South Africa and thus we return home to you, in Santiago de Compostela,” Villa concluded.

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