Catholic groups decry end of immigration protection for Salvadorans
WASHINGTON — As the Catholic Church in the U.S. began observing National Migration Week, a time to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, immigrants, refugees, and human trafficking victims, the administration of President Donald Trump announced that it would end an immigration program for thousands of Salvadorans, one of the largest groups of modern-day immigrants in the country and one that includes many Catholics. More than 200,000 Salvadorans, living under a special immigration status in the U.S., now face the prospect of staying in the country illegally or returning to a nation designated as one of the most dangerous in the world not at war, after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Jan. 8 that it was ending a provision called Temporary Protected Status after Sept. 9, 2019. TPS grants a work permit and a reprieve from deportation to certain people whose countries have experienced natural disasters, armed conflicts or exceptional situations, to remain temporarily in the United States. El Salvador had previously received the designation in 1990 after thousands of Salvadorans fled to the U.S. seeking refuge from a brutal civil war.
Churches no longer exempt from FEMA disaster aid
WASHINGTON — 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 isn't 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 in June, which ruled that Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri shouldn't 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.
Pope says he goes to Chile, Peru as pilgrim of Gospel joy
VATICAN CITY — Less than a week before embarking on a seven-day visit to South America, Pope Francis said he would go to Chile and Peru as a pilgrim and share the Gospel's message of hope and joy. "I want to meet with you, look into your eyes, see your faces and experience God's closeness, His tenderness and mercy that embraces and consoles us," the pope said in a video message released by the Vatican Jan. 9. The pope will be in Chile Jan. 15-18, visiting the cities of Santiago, Temuco and Iquique. He then will fly to Peru and from Jan. 18-21, he will visit Lima, Puerto Maldonado and Trujillo. In his message, Pope Francis said he was familiar with the history of both countries and was grateful for the people's faith and love for God, particularly in caring for those "discarded by society. The throwaway culture has invaded us more and more," he said.
Chinese bishop released from detention after more than seven months
HONG KONG — Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou has been released by Chinese authorities after being detained for more than seven months, reported ucanews.com. The bishop, who hasn't joined government-approved associations for Church officials, was released Jan. 3 and was expected to return to Wenzhou, one of China's biggest Christian cities, in late January. A source who wanted to be unnamed told ucanews.com that after Bishop Shao was taken away in May, officials from Wenzhou City Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs tried to force him to sign an agreement. The agreement requested the bishop to support the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the self-election and self-ordination of bishops. After a lot of pressure, Bishop Shao signed the agreement but added a remark that he didn't agree with the terms, the source stated.
Zambia bans church services amid cholera epidemic
LUSAKA, Zambia — As a cholera epidemic threatens the lives of more than 14 million Zambians, the country has banned church services and other gatherings in the Lusaka's high-density residential areas. The Zambian bishops' conference also has implemented measures, such as eliminating the handshake of peace in areas where Masses are still allowed. Zambian government ministers said Jan. 7 that all gatherings of every nature, including church services, were banned in areas most affected by the epidemic. The ministers said the ban is aimed at curbing the spread of the disease and making current treatment measures more effective. The ministers also announced restrictions on the movement of people in the cholera epicenters from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and limited the opening of bars and other business outlets to between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. The Archdiocese of Lusaka has canceled all church-sponsored programs until further notice.
Pope to diplomats: World peace depends on right to life, disarmament
VATICAN CITY — Because everyone has a right to life, liberty and personal security, nations must find nonviolent solutions to conflict and difficulties, Pope Francis said. A culture of peace "calls for unremitting efforts in favor of disarmament and the reduction of recourse to the use of armed force in the handling of international affairs," he said Jan. 8 in his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican. Given the urgent need to favor dialogue and diplomacy in conflict resolution and to end the stockpiling of weapons, "I would therefore like to encourage a serene and wide-ranging debate on the subject, one that avoids polarizing the international community on such a sensitive issue," the pope said. At the start of a new year, the pope dedicated his speech to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its adoption by the U.N. General Assembly in December. The declaration was an attempt to help the world's nations base their relations on "truth, justice, willing cooperation and freedom" by upholding the fundamental rights of all human beings, he said. The very foundation of freedom, justice and world peace, he said, quoting the document, is built on recognizing and respecting these rights.
—Catholic News Service