March 16-22, 2006
Religion & Politics
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
National Prayer Breakfast Attracts Major Names with Major Themes
Msgr. Eugene Yennock, pastor of St. Daniel Church in Lyncourt, has attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., since the days when the farmer from Plains, Ga. was president. His first time attending was during Jimmy Carter’s presidency in 1980. This year’s breakfast, held Feb. 2, was the 52nd annual and featured President George W. Bush, Bono and King Abdullah II of Jordan as speakers.
The Catholic News Service reported that King Abdullah, who ascended to the throne in1999 after the death of his father, King Hussein, brought a message of moderation in Islam to the evangelical-dominated breakfast. In July 2005, the Jordanian king initiated an Islamic summit to clarify what Islam does and does not allow and who is a Muslim and who can speak for Islam. Out of the summit a declaration that recognizes eight traditional schools of Islamic religious law was signed. He stressed what is common between Christianity, Judaism and Islam: belief in one God, worship and devotion to God, and love and justice toward other human beings. According to the Catholic News Service, King Abdullah said that violence from religious extremists stems from hatred, not from true religious faith.
“King Abdullah’s talk in the afternoon was very good,” Msgr. Yennock said. “He talked about the roots of Islam being in the Old Testament of Christianity and Judaism. His efforts were to help people understand that all three religions have common roots.” It might seem ironic that a group of people representing faiths from all over the globe come together to worship in a town that is so often touted for its scandals and headlines. Msgr. Yennock said it is important to note that even though the public is given information about all sorts of news coming out of Washington, there are still “good men and women in Congress who do believe in God.”
The first breakfast came about via a small prayer group made up of members of the Senate and House of Representatives, Msgr. Yennock explained. It was during President Dwight Eisenhower’s term that the prayer group’s breakfast developed into a more significant event. Approximately 3,000 to 3,500 people from all over the U.S. and the world now attend what began as a gathering of about 300 people, Msgr. Yennock said. President Bush, whose Christian beliefs are well-documented, also addressed the crowd at the Washington Hilton Hotel. He acknowledged members of his Cabinet in attendance and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His comments can be accessed through the White House website (www.whitehouse.gov).
“When we come together every year, we leave aside the debates of the working day,” the president said. “We recognize our dependence on God and pray with one voice for His blessings on our country. We’re in the capital of the most powerful nation on Earth, yet we recognize the limits of all earthly power. God serves His own purposes and does not owe us an explanation.” President Bush also acknowledged what Muslims, Christians and Jews all have in common: “…We are called to act as what we are — the sons and daughters of Abraham.” He recognized the men and women who serve in the military and quoted some of them, telling of how they have served the people in Iraq by rebuilding hospitals, schools and organizing the donation of books, clothing and toys for Iraqi children.
One of the highlights of this year’s breakfast was the keynote address by Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock band, U2. Bono, the son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, explained his background having grown up in a country clearly divided. He conceded that he had avoided religious people most of his life. It was the designation of the Year of Jubilee in 2000 that struck a chord with the rock star.
The idea of the year providing an opportunity to forgive the debt of the world’s poor appealed to him. “This is such an important idea, Jubilee, that this is how Jesus begins his ministry. Jesus is a young man; he’s met with the rabbis; he’s impressed everybody; people are talking. The elders say, he’s a clever guy, this Jesus, but — you know he hasn’t done much public speaking,” Bono told the breakfast-goers. When Jesus does speak, Bono said, his words came from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.” Jesus then proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor, the year of Jubilee. Bono spoke about the power of churches when they demonstrate about debt, AIDS and global health. He said that governments listened when people of the churches spoke out.
“Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone,” Bono said at the breakfast. “I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may — may well be with us in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree — all faiths, all ideologies — is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. “God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”