Vatican City, Oct 18, 2018 / 11:45 am (CNA).- The head of the United States government’s international aid agency met with Vatican officials and an Iraqi cardinal Wednesday, in an effort to highlight U.S. efforts in the Middle East.
Mark Green, who leads the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), told CNA that the objective for his Oct. 17 day at the Vatican was to show what his organization has been doing on the ground in Iraq, working to rebuild communities and provide emergency relief.
He said it was a chance for Vatican officials “to kick the tires and offer ideas and suggestions.”
Effective development work, Green said, “is always based around dialogue and a conversation.”
The USAID Administrator met with the Vatican’s Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, and with Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development.
Green’s visit to Rome took place after an announcement earlier this month that USAID had signed an agreement with the Knights of Columbus. The two groups will partner in assisting religious minorities in the Middle East rebuild their communities after the persecution and genocide of the Islamic State.
Enlisting the direct help of religious groups like the Knights of Columbus, Malteser International, and Samaritan’s Purse is “crucial” to the success of USAID’s projects in the region, Green said.
The U.S. agency also announced Oct. 16 that it was increasing assistance to religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq by around $45 million. This new commitment brings the total amount in planned and active efforts in support of minority communities in northern Iraq to more than $239 million.
While in Rome, Green also met with Cardinal Louis Sako I, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Archbishop of Baghdad.
The meeting followed strong comments from the patriarch, who had claimed that U.S. government policies were empty promises of help.
Speaking to journalists Oct. 16, Sako said, “until now,” there has been nothing from the American government to help Iraqi people return to their homes.
Green told CNA that his meeting with Sako was a good opportunity both to show what USAID was doing already, and to hear ideas from him on what else can be done.
“I’m a tough metrics guy, so don’t just tell me you’re doing it, show me that you’re doing it,” Green said. “That’s what I wanted to bring to [Cardinal Sako]. And a commitment that the door is open, that we will continue to listen.”
Sako was shown photographs of projects already underway in Iraq, and graphics illustrating the reach of the aid efforts, Green said.
He emphasized that he did not think there was major disagreement between Sako and himself, but that it is “a matter of helping to show him what it is that we’re doing and learn about more that we could be doing.”
Green travelled to northern Iraq this past summer, together with Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, to evaluate how U.S. aid money is being applied and see at first-hand the situation facing Iraqi minorities.
Following that trip, Green said, USAID had stationed a special representative, Max Primorac, in the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil as an on-the-ground special representative for minority assistance.
This new post, Green said, is to “take a clear-eyed, tough-minded look” at what is happening, to see what is working and what is not, and to help ensure results.
“I think what this whole effort is doing… is not only helping to meet some immediate needs, not only helping to do some strengthening and bolstering of infrastructure, but also hopefully strengthening the capacity of organizations on the ground for the long run.”
The hope, Green said, is to “continue to build up this part of Iraq, so that families say, ‘my future is here, I can live here, my children can go to school here, there will be the kinds of jobs that keep them here.’”