Churches no longer exempt from FEMA disaster aid
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is revising its policies to no longer exclude houses of worship from applying for federal aid to recover from damages caused by natural disasters. The policy change was outlined in the agency’s revised 217-page manual: “Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide” issued Jan. 2. This change is not just for damage caused in future disasters but also affects claims made by churches last year from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma because it can be applied retroactively to claims made “on or after Aug. 23, 2017.” An introduction to the new FEMA manual credits the change in policy to a Supreme Court decision last June, which ruled that Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri should not have been denied a public benefit just because it is a church. The court’s 7-2 decision specifically referred to the church-run preschool and said it should not be excluded from a state grant program to refurbish its playground surface just because it is a religious entity. “In light of the Trinity Lutheran decision, FEMA has considered its guidance on private nonprofit facility eligibility,” the agency’s new document says, pointing out that houses of worship would not be excluded from eligibility for FEMA aid on the basis of the religious character or primarily religious use of the facility.
In op-ed, border bishop pleads for TPS leniency for sake of children
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Days before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security decides whether to extend or terminate a special immigration status for some 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S., a border bishop pleaded with the Trump administration to think about the well-being of the immigrants’ children who are U.S. citizens. In a Jan. 2 opinion piece for the Washington-based political website The Hill, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, said he worries for families in which some members are U.S. citizens and others have a less permanent immigration status. He asked what will happen to the children of Salvadorans who have Temporary Protected Status, known as TPS, if the program ends and people are forced to return to their homeland. TPS grants a work permit and reprieve from deportation to certain people whose countries have experienced natural disasters, armed conflicts or exceptional situations so they can remain temporarily in the United States. “A question that burns in my heart is what will happen to these children if their parents are ordered back to El Salvador? What will become of their futures?” Bishop Seitz asked in the opinion piece.
Congo’s Catholic leaders condemn attacks on protesters, churches
KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) — Congolese church leaders, including the nation’s cardinal, condemned security forces’ attacks on Catholic protesters that left at least five dead and 120 people detained. The Vatican Embassy in Kinshasa backed local church officials, saying that “the promotion of social justice and the defense of political and civil rights of citizens are an integral part of the social doctrine of the church.” The Jan. 2 statement said the nuncio was keeping the Vatican Secretariat of State informed, but people should not look for approval or condemnation “because it is standard in the Church to respect the competence of the diocesan bishops.” The nunciature also updated the number of dead and churches involved. The Dec. 31 protest against rule by President Joseph Kabila was organized by the Kinshasa archdiocesan lay coordination committee. At least six priests and a seminarian were among those detained. “We condemn with utmost vigor this unjustified violence,” the Congolese bishops’ conference said in a statement Jan. 2.
Postulator: Religious killed in Algeria will be recognized as martyrs
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A bishop, seven Trappist monks and 11 other religious men and women killed by extremists in Algeria in the 1990s will soon be recognized as martyrs, the postulator for their causes said. The decree for their beatification should be published sometime in January, Trappist Father Thomas Georgeon said Jan. 1 in an interview with Mondo e Missione (World and Mission), a monthly magazine and website run by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. A 10-year-long armed conflict between government forces and extremist Islamic rebel groups left tens of thousands of people dead, making the deaths of the 19 religious “a martyrdom in the midst of a sea of violence that devastated Algeria,” he said. “To pay homage to these 19 Christian martyrs means also paying homage to the memory of all those who gave their life in Algeria those dark years” as they were killed “for their country and for their faith,” the priest said.
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