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Vice President Mike Pence pledged that the U.S. government will provide direct aid to Christians in the Middle East, singling out the Knights of Columbus for “extraordinary work caring for the persecuted around the world.”
U.S. aid had previously been given to the United Nations for distribution in the troubled region. Speaking at the In Defense of Christians Fourth Annual Solidarity Dinner in Washington, Pence said that the aid had been ineffective in helping Christians who have suffered at the hands of ISIS and other terrorist groups.
“While faith-based groups with proven track records and deep roots in these communities are more than willing to assist, the United Nations too often denies their funding requests,” Pence said. “My friends, those days are over. This is the moment. This is the time. And America will support these people in their hour of need.”
The news was a milestone for the Knights of Columbus, which has led the effort to protect Christians amid a genocide in the Middle East.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson introduced Pence at the dinner, stating that now was the time to “rededicate ourselves to the defense of our brothers and sisters in faith — and to defending them in a Christian way with the ethics of love.”
“Despite the efforts of so many, the world witnesses again and again the crimes against humanity that we now describe as genocide,” Anderson told an audience that included elected officials, bishops, priests and prelates from the U.S. and throughout the Middle East. “Today that word is rightly applied to what is happening to Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.”
In August, the Knights announced plans to raise $2 million to rebuild Karamles, a predominantly Christian town in Iraq that was destroyed by ISIS. The Knights’ drive will enable hundreds of families from Christian and other minority communities, who were evicted by ISIS in 2014, to move back to their homes.
The Knights are urging K of C councils, along with parishes and other Church groups, to donate $2,000, the approximate cost of resettling one family.
Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus Christian Refugee Relief Fund has donated more than $17 million for humanitarian assistance in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region. The Knights’ documentation of ISIS atrocities and its advocacy efforts were instrumental in the 2016 decision by then-Secretary of State John Kerry to declare the treatment of Christians and other religious minorities in the region as genocide. Current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reaffirmed that designation earlier this year.
Vice President Pence praised the Knights, saying the organization’s efforts had been instrumental in raising awareness of the genocide in the region.
In Defense of Christians also honored U.S. Representative Chris Smith for his extensive work on behalf of Christians in the Middle East. Smith, a representative from New Jersey, is a key ally of the Knights of Columbus.
In Defense of Christians is a nonprofit, nonpartisan human rights advocacy group based in Washington. The dinner was part of a multiday summit that included meetings about the issues in the Middle East, along with lobbying of members of Congress.
“Scripture tells us that those who lead many to righteousness shall ‘shine like the stars forever,’” Supreme Knight Anderson said in his introduction of the vice president. “There has never been a more righteous cause than the defense of those helpless ones being led to slaughter.”