Prayer and public witness at the U.S. Capitol

Faith leaders on the U.S. Capitol grounds. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.

By Daulton DePatis

“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. But he went only as far as the king’s gate because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.”  Esther 4:1-3 (NIV)

Faith leaders last month, comprising a diverse group known as the Circle of Protection, gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol Building, with ashes on their foreheads and sackcloth stoles around their necks, to stand in solidarity with people suffering from hunger and poverty. This was a day of prayer and public witness.

Standing around a wooden cross in front of the Senate steps of the Capitol, the Christian leaders prayed for God’s favor as they speak out on behalf of people struggling from hunger and poverty and oppose legislation and budget decisions that would endanger the well-being of millions of Americans and people around the world.

“We pray you bring wisdom to this nation,” said Bishop Abel Palomo of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, “that you bring unity, Lord, within the government halls, to do that which is right and righteous before your presence.”

The group sang “Ubi Caritas,” Latin for “Live in Charity,” several times throughout the event and read passages of scripture—such as Matthew 5:3-10 and James 2:1-8—to highlight the biblical basis for their advocacy.

The faith leaders concluded by lifting their hands toward the Capitol Building as Rev. Carlos L. Malavé, executive director of Christian Churches Together, gave a benediction: “May the almighty and merciful God and his Son who is abundant in love, and the courage and power of the Holy Spirit be with our friends in the U.S. Congress, with us, and with all of God’s children today and forever, Amen.”

Earlier in the day, several of the faith leaders, including Bread for the World president, Rev. David Beckmann, held a press conference to express their opposition to the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal. The proposal would slash funding for foreign aid and severely cut funding for domestic anti-poverty programs, including nutrition, housing, heating assistance, and community development.

“The budget is a moral document,” said Jim Wallis, president and founder of Sojourners. “It reveals our moral priorities.”

Rep. Joe Kennedy, the only lawmaker in attendance, said, “In times of division and discourse in our government, our faith steadies us. It is our connective thread, and a common compass.”

The group acknowledged that their faith traditions differ, but that they stand together under the biblical command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

During the afternoon, the faith leaders met with Senate and House members, speaking on behalf of hungry and poor people and urging Congress to oppose budget cuts to policies and programs that hurt those struggling from hunger and poverty.

Daulton DePatis is an intern in the church relations department at Bread for the World.

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