WASHINGTON — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence criticized the United Nations' efforts to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East in a speech Oct. 25.
Since the organization "failed" to help Christians and other minority religious communities, he said, aid from the United States from now on would be routed through the U.S. Agency for International Development and "faith-based and private organizations" to help those who are persecuted in the region.
The vice president, who was the keynote speaker at the Solidarity Dinner for the Washington-based group In Defense of Christians, did not identify any of the faith-based or private groups that will receive the money, nor did he say how much they will receive, but instead criticized the U.N. saying it had denied help to faith-based groups.
"Christians and those who are persecuted in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly and tonight it is my privilege to announce that President (Donald) Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding the ineffective relief efforts of the United Nations and from this day forward America will provide support directly to persecuted communities," he said.
The vice president also announced that he will be making a trip to the Middle East in December but did not release details.
"I promise you one of the messages that I will bring on the president's behalf to the leaders across the region is that now is the time to bring an end to the persecution of Christians and all religious minorities," he said.
Pence was introduced at the dinner by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus. The dinner was part of three days of prayer, workshops, meetings and a lobbying effort by the nonprofit In Defense of Christians organization, which advocates mostly for Christians in the Middle East but also calls attention to the plight of other minority groups in the region.
The organization primarily aims to call attention to disappearance of Christians from their ancestral home, prompting Christians in the U.S. to do something to help them. The organization claims "over 200,000 volunteer citizen activists" in its ranks.
Pence said Christianity is facing "heartbreaking" acts of violence as well as an "exodus" from its ancestral home, but said the Trump administration is focused on destroying "the embodiment of evil in our time: ISIS." He largely focused on the group as the source of the evils perpetrated on Christians who "are today the targets of unspeakable acts of violence and atrocities."
"The vice president is correct that Christians are under particularly brutal pressure in countries where local branches of IS are active, such as Iraq, Syria and Egypt," said Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Middle East Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
However, she said, "Christians have also faced persistent social, economic and political discrimination in some of these countries for decades, long before IS existed," Dunne continued, explaining the complexity of the problems in the region.
"I hope that when (the vice president) visits the Middle East, and particularly Egypt, Pence will discuss both the urgent problem of jihadi violence against Christians and the long-running problems of discrimination and intercommunal violence, about which the government of President Sissi has done very little," Dunne said to Catholic News Service, speaking of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
"I hope he will also question whether the Egyptian government's campaign against terrorism — which involves extensive human rights abuses and political repression — is really effective, or whether it might be fueling the very radicalization that ends up brutalizing Christians," Dunne added.
Anderson praised the decision by the Trump administration to provide direct U.S. aid to persecuted Christians in the Middle East and route it through the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Pence singled out the Knights of Columbus for "extraordinary work caring for the persecuted around the world."
"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."
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.