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Knights of Columbus teams with U.S. government to assist Christians in Iraq

Syrian Orthodox Mar Mattai monastery in Northern Iraq
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U.S Agency for International Development implementing Pence plan with help from Catholic fraternal organization.

A new collaboration between the Knights of Columbus and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) promises to expedite the material support Christians of the Near East require to rebuild and return to their homes in the wake of the Islamic State persecution.

USAID and the Knights signed a Memorandum of Understanding Thursday that will facilitate partnerships to help communities in the Middle East recover from genocide and persecution, USAID announced. USAID has over $195 million in planned and active assistance to support the recovery in Northern Iraq and is charged with implementing Vice President Mike Pence’s “Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Initiative in the Middle East Region,” which he announced a year ago.

The memorandum of understanding foresees that the cooperation between USAID and the Knights “will bring together funding not only from the U.S. government but also from a vast network of American philanthropists to assist the survivors of genocide and persecuted communities to reconstitute themselves after years of suffering and war.” The agency and the Catholic fraternal organization will work together to identify populations in need and assist them, convene local actors, advance pluralism, and collaborate on efforts to prevent future atrocities.

“The Knights of Columbus is pleased to work together with USAID in the important work being done to stabilize these communities and hope that our joint and combined efforts will bring hope and concrete improvement to the situation confronting minority communities targeted by ISIS,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson in a statement.

USAID plans to work closely with the K of C and local faith and community leaders to deliver aid rapidly to persecuted communities, according to the memorandum. “Crucially,” the document states, “the support will flow directly to individuals and households most in need of help.”

To do that, USAID plans to rely on “the unique expertise and relationships of trust that organizations like K of C has forged with local and faith-based organizations in the region.”

The Knights of Columbus has already committed more than $20 million in aid to the region since 2014 and has been a leading U.S. and international advocate on behalf of the persecuted minorities. It plans to donate $5 million more over the next six months. The Knights also submitted a report two years ago detailing ISIS atrocities in the region. That report has been instrumental in genocide designations by successive U.S. secretaries of state since 2016.

“In the aftermath of ISIS’ campaign of genocide, Christian and Yazidi populations—and those of other religious minorities—in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region are under extreme pressure,” Anderson said. “Our work with USAID is intended to help these populations survive and prosper in lands they have called home for centuries, and even millennia. We cannot allow ISIS to succeed in driving them out.”

In December 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared a military victory over the Islamic State, after a weeks-long battle to retake their last stronghold in Iraq, in Mosul. But some Christians there are still very cautious.

Chaldean Archbishop of Basra Habib Nafali said in a recent interview with Catholic News Service that he was fearful of renewed persecution because he believed that ISIS had not been defeated but had gone underground. He warned that there are so few Christians left in his country that the Church would disappear if it was subjected to another wave of persecution.

 

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