John L. Allen Jr.
In this Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 photo, Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldean Patriarch speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq. (Credit: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed.)
ROME – After an Iraqi cardinal said Tuesday that the U.S. government has “done nothing” to aid beleaguered Christians in his country, a Trump administration official on Wednesday insisted that “the U.S. is helping a tremendous amount, by any measure.”
“We have mobilized a massive amount of resources,” said Mark Green, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, one day after the American State Department released data showing $178 million has been allocated as aid to Iraq’s Christians.
That data also asserted that the U.S. government has worked with 36 faith-based organizations, 11 local faith organizations, and 27 international organizations to provide aid, including the Knights of Columbus, of which Green is a former member.
(The Knights of Columbus are a principal sponsor of Crux.)
Green spoke to reporters in Rome, hours after he had met Cardinal Louis Rapahel Sako of Baghdad as part of a previously scheduled visit. He said that he didn’t fault Sako for speaking out, because “he should be asking tough questions.”
“I think he’s supportive of all the work we’re doing, I don’t think there was ever a doubt about that,” Green said.
“It was constructive,” he said of his meeting with the Iraqi prelate. “We had a long, good conversation … smiled, shook hands, and it was good, and I truly enjoyed the conversation.”
In a Vatican press conference on Tuesday, Sako said that to forget Christians in Iraq and Syria, and also those living as refugees in neighboring countries, is a “mortal sin,” and then charged that the U.S. government is not stepping up.
To that, Green bluntly said, “I disagree.”
“It’s a reminder to a development agency like the one I’m privileged to help lead that it’s not enough to do a lot of work, to produce a lot of things, to work on things like rebuilding water systems or electricity and helping to provide humanitarian assistance,” he said.
“We have to make sure that people are aware of what we’re doing, and constantly talk about the work we’re doing,” Green said.
A former Republican member of the House from Wisconsin and onetime gubernatorial candidate, Green said the U.S. commitment to rebuilding the Christian presence in northern Iraq is long-term.
“We’re helping to reinforce the basic infrastructure that communities need to see their regions as a place where they can live, work, raise a family and have a future,” he said. “That requires all parts of the development spectrum. We have to be able to show young people that there is an economic future in the region.”
The Nineveh Plains of northern Iraq, once considered a Christian stronghold, was occupied by ISIS in 2014 and held for more or less the next three years, driving some 100,000 Christians into exile. Today, the Nineveh Plains Reconstruction Project, pioneered by local churches acting in concert with the backing of international organizations such as the papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need and the Knights of Columbus, is working furiously to rebuild destroyed or damaged homes and entice displaced Christians to return.
Of his Wednesday meeting with Sako, Green said, “It was an opportunity to show him some of the work we’re doing, both directly in his constituency and throughout the region in northern Iraq. We showed him pictures, showed him some of the biometrics work we’re doing, and it was great.”
“We just entered into [an agreement] with the Knights of Columbus, we entered into one with the Knights of Malta a couple of months ago now. This is some of the work we’re doing directly in the constituency, and I think he found it interesting,” he said.
Beyond Sako, on Wednesday Green also met British Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister; Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, head of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; and representatives of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a movement that works on conflict resolution, ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue, and social development.
“I became even more familiar with the range of partners we are working with and can be working with, but none of it surprised me,” he said of those meetings.
“Development is a conversation,” Green said. “Part of what happens on a day like today is that we all get new ideas about what we can do … how do we tap into and take advantage of every organization’s capacity and experience? None of it’s a surprise to me, but all of it’s an education to me.”
Green said his Vatican contacts help to establish a set of priorities.
“We don’t have all the money in the world, we’ll never have enough money to meet everyone’s needs, and no one believes that we do,” he said. “How is it that we prioritize? How do we make the right investments that can continue to build?”
“It’s every single day making sure that we understand what the needs are and involving communities in prioritizing,” Green said.
“Our work with Caritas Iraq, with the Knights of Columbus (as a former member of the Knights of Columbus), Maltese International, Samaritan’s Purse, working the Yazidis …expanding that network is vitally important,” Green said.
In general, Green said the criticism from Sako should be a wake-up call.
“It’s a reminder that it’s not only important to execute and deliver results, but to be able to constantly stay in touch and make people aware of what we’re doing and involve them in guiding it, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.