Cardinal Dolan, Rev. Rodriguez: Prayer Breakfast a time to remember vital role of American foreign assistance

As leaders from around the country and the world gather for the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, we will rejoice, reflect and put prayer to action.

We will rejoice because our nation is helping achieve remarkably good news.

Over the last three decades, America has helped cut extreme poverty in half around the world. 2.6 billion people have been blessed with access to safer drinking water. Other interventions like vaccine programs and improved nutrition have helped reduce child death under age five around the world by more than half, an historic low.


Disasters and crises may make the news, but behind the headlines lives the healthiest generation of children in recorded history. We witness it in the newborn free of HIV; the toddler whose belly is no longer distended by parasitic worms; and the midwife whose clinic no longer relies on a filthy stream as its only source of water. Families are thriving as more girls are safely in school, more women are raising livestock, and more farmers have the tools and techniques to increase harvests.

Offering a hand up to the least of these is our biblical mandate. And it is working.

Americans in all 50 states serve with dozens of faith-based organizations on the frontlines – making up a faith community that is an active and valued partner with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Through public-private partnerships that bring our unique resources and strengths to bear — from innovation and financial contributions to field expertise — together we are quite literally saving lives and strengthening families and communities around the world.

But success would not be possible were it not for the U.S. government’s essential influence and resources. Unfortunately, Americans too often misunderstand just how much our government spends on foreign assistance to fight poverty and disease overseas. The reality is that it is less than one percent of the federal budget.

The combination of our government’s influence and resources is absolutely crucial and has provided the necessary leadership that has led the way to unprecedented success. These are lasting achievements that all Americans can be proud of – regardless of political party, ideology or faith.

Even during seasons when bipartisanship seems far from view, it is moments like the Prayer Breakfast that offer a reminder of this longstanding commitment to the least of these from both sides of the aisle. From leaders in Congress, and from administration to administration, our leaders have always understood that this work comes not at a cost but as a contribution to our own national wellbeing – and ultimately we demonstrate our nation’s highest values to a world hungry for good news.

Over the past two years, the administration’s commitment to “The Journey to Self-Reliance” framework is making a tangible difference in how we strengthen our assistance tools and partnerships. Last year, Congress also passed and President Trump signed the BUILD Act into law – part of a bipartisan agenda to help ensure that our nation can fight global poverty with more effective financing tools.

These are important achievements. But we are not done. More than 800 million people go to bed hungry each night in our world. That preventable pneumonia for lack of clean air continues to be the leading cause of death in children, and preventable diarrhea for lack of clean water continues to be their leading cause of malnutrition (and second leading cause of death), is a reflection of deep global health and development inequalities.

At the National Prayer Breakfast, we will reflect on our nation’s priorities and role in God’s Kingdom. It calls to mind a certain sermon: “You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see.”

The Prayer Breakfast, like prayer, is ultimately about action. While our country cannot solve all of the world’s problems, of course, we are an essential light in the call to help the least of these. Let us continue to be a leader among nations.


American foreign assistance is among the most cost-effective and compassionate commitments our government makes and we urge the president, along with his administration and members of Congress, to fully fund and support these critical programs that save and celebrate life.

Let us be that shining city on a hill; there remains good works to be done.

Reverend Samuel Rodriguez is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.