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Catholic Relief Services applauds inclusion of humanitarian aid on bill that would provide aid to Israel and Ukraine

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A militant of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic is seen at frontline positions located on the troops contact line with Ukrainian forces near the Ukrainian village of Leninsko Dec. 18, 2020. (OSV News photo/Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters)

WASHINGTON– The Senate voted Feb. 8 to proceed with debate on a bill that would provide military and humanitarian aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, among other measures.

An official with Catholic Relief Services applauded the inclusion of humanitarian aid along with military aid in the measure under consideration in the Senate.

“We, as people of faith, cannot neglect the cries of countless families impacted by conflict, hunger and displacement,” Bill O’Keefe, executive vice president for mission, mobilization and advocacy at CRS, said in a Feb. 7 statement.

“Basic resources — food, shelter and clean water — would breathe life into millions of our sisters and brothers suffering from compounding crises. Urgent funding, action and leadership by the United States government is necessary to prevent despair and foster peace from Sudan to Ukraine, and from Central America to Gaza,” he said.

The Senate voted 67-32 to begin debate on the national security supplemental, an approximately $95 billion package. However, it is not yet clear if the legislation itself has enough support to ultimately pass.

The procedural vote came just one day after Republicans in the upper chamber rejected a bipartisan deal that would have tied such aid to border security measures.

An Israeli soldier looks on from a Merkava tank near destroyed buildings as Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip Dec. 18, 2023, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. (OSV News photo/Israel Defense Forces handout via Reuters) MANDATORY CREDIT. NO ARCHIVES. MUST DISCARD 30 DAYS AFTER DOWNLOAD.

“This is a good first step, this bill is essential for our national security,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in remarks on the Senate floor after the vote. “Failure to pass this bill would only embolden autocrats like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (Chinese President) Xi (Jinping), who want nothing more than America’s decline. Now that we are on the bill, we hope to reach an amendment with our Republican colleagues on amendments.”

Schumer said the Senate would work on the legislation “until the job is done.”

The previous day, the Senate rejected a long-anticipated border security deal during another procedural vote amid opposition from many Republicans.

That approximately $118 billion emergency national security bill would have sent aid to Ukraine as that nation is running out of defensive material to hold back Russia’s invasion, while implementing strict new migration policies for the U.S.-Mexico border, among other provisions.

But Catholic migration advocates expressed concern in the failed bill about the implications of the proposed legislation, particularly for those seeking asylum.

The Senate’s latest attempt to send aid to Ukraine comes at a critical point for that nation as Russia’s forces have launched new offensives by land and air.

Russian occupation already is unleashing persecution of the Catholic Church not seen since the Soviet era. Since 2022, Russian authorities have banned the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and other Catholic ministries in occupied areas of Ukraine‚Äôs Zaporizhzhia region, according to the church’s main communications office in Kyiv. Also banned by the Russian order were the Knights of Columbus and Caritas, the official humanitarian arm of the worldwide Catholic Church.

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, “Today’s vote is about providing vital security assistance to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. We cannot abandon these allies and partners as they face existential threats.”

“It’s also a vote in favor of rebuilding our defense industrial base, which has significantly diminished in recent years,” Young wrote. “Restoring our military readiness — from artillery to semiconductors — is critical not to promoting war but to deterring conflict.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, wrote in a post on X, “We are in a very dangerous time.”

“Authoritarians are on the march and working together, even as our defense industrial base has atrophied in a serious way,” Sullivan, who is Catholic, said. “I voted to advance this national security supplemental because we need to strengthen our ability to produce weapons and protect ourselves NOW — not once the bullets start flying.”

But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who voted against proceeding with debate on the bill, wrote on X, “It’s a terrible idea to put forward and pass a bill that tries to secure other countries’ borders before we secure our own. We need to address our problems here at home in a REAL way.”

Although the Senate rejected the previous package that would have tied the aid to stricter provisions for the U.S.-Mexico border, CRS’ O’Keefe said the agency does “share the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ concerns about provisions that restrict access to asylum and curtail due process.”

“People worldwide deserve safety, opportunity and dignity,” O’Keefe said. “We look forward to protecting these tenets and engaging with Congress in a bipartisan manner as they debate the various provisions in this (supplemental) bill.”