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Mike Pence meets with Iraqi archbishop to discuss US aid to persecuted Christians

(Reuters/Joshua Roberts)Vice President Mike Pence speaks at U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda of Erbil on Monday to discuss the needs of Iraqi Christians who are looking to rebuild their homes and communities.

Warda, who came to the U.S. for a week-long conference called "Solidarity in Suffering" to raise awareness for the persecuted Church, said that he updated Pence on the situation facing Iraqi Christians and expressed his gratitude for the vice president's promise to provide assistance to communities that were persecuted by the Islamic State.

The 48-year-old archbishop, who oversees the Archdiocese of Erbil, has sheltered and aided thousands of Christians who were forced to flee their homes but were reluctant to go to U.N. camps for fear of facing further persecution.

In a statement, Warda noted that he also mentioned the "importance of the aid and support we have received from the Knights of Columbus in the United States, and Aid to the Church in Need in Europe."

In a tweet posted on Monday, Pence said that the meeting with the Iraqi archbishop was an "important dialogue" about President Donald Trump's "commitment to directly assist persecuted Christians & religious minorities in Iraq."

Warda said that during their meeting, he had given Pence a crucifix from the town of Karemlash, which was "targeted and badly damaged when ISIS invaded."

"I also assured him of our prayers and told him that if he ever visits Iraq, he is most welcome in Erbil," he said.

At the "Solidarity in Suffering" conference last week, Warda thanked Pence and Trump for announcing the administration's plans to change existing policy to allow the U.S. to send aid to Iraqi Christians directly without having to go through the U.N.

There had been some complaints that aid given to the U.N. was not reaching displaced minority communities that have suffered genocide at the hands of ISIS.

Pence is expected to visit the Middle East later this month to "discuss US plans to accelerate funding [to] those impacted in the region."

According to Catholic News Agency, Pence's upcoming trip to the Middle East is part of a series of conferences he attended concerning the situation of persecuted Christians in the region.

In October, Pence spoke at the annual Solidarity Dinner for Christians in the Middle East, which was hosted by the advocacy group In Defense of Christians (IDC). In his speech, the vice president noted that Christians have been targeted by ISIS for persecution, and expressed concern that Christianity could disappear from some parts of the Middle East.

"Let me assure you tonight, President Trump and I see these crimes for what they are - vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the Gospel of Christ," Pence vowed at the time.

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