NEWS STORY: Politicians Prominent at Third National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

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c. 2004 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ Hundreds of Latino clergy and lay people were greeted Friday (June 4) by Republican and Democratic leaders as the third National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast was held in an election year.

President Bush sent a message via video while other speakers _ including Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. _ spoke Scripture or a bit of Spanish live to the audience.

The president, who met with Pope John Paul II on the same day as the breakfast, used his video message to affirm Hispanics in general and their work with faith-based initiatives in particular.

“The pastors and leaders attending this breakfast are part of what I call the armies of compassion,” Bush said. “You are living proof of the tremendous success we can have when we allow fair treatment of faith-based groups. I’ll continue my commitment to the faith-based initiative so you can continue to receive federal support for your works of compassion.”

Organized by Esperanza USA, a Philadelphia-based national Hispanic faith-based organization, the breakfast drew about 500 people from 20 states and a range of denominations. Esperanza USA has received millions of dollars in federal funding that has helped 150 Latino organizations with training and grants to expand their work.

Breakfast attendees were treated to eggs and muffins as well as bilingual prayers, Latin gospel music and political speeches.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., praised President Bush for being outspoken about his faith.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s a problem,” he said. “I think that’s a wonderful thing, to have a president that talks about faith.”

Evans cited economic advances by the administration to increase minority home ownership and decrease unemployment, but also touched on his belief that faith has influenced his life and the country.

“Our faith and our freedom both flow from the same source, our Creator,” he said.

Lieberman _ who said a blessing in Hebrew, Spanish and English _ attended the breakfast as a representative of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.

“Only in America would an Irish-Catholic senator ask an Orthodox Jewish senator to represent him at a gathering of Hispanic Protestants,” said the Democrat from Connecticut.

Clinton opened her remarks by declaring a verse from Psalm 118: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

She was among 70 members of Congress who were visited by delegations of Hispanic religious leaders the previous day.

“I believe we are called on to exercise our faith in visible ways so that others may see faith in action,” she said.

She also spoke of being raised with a knowledge of prayer and faith.

“Of course, having been in the White House for a few years, I would have become a praying person had I not gone in as one,” she said, drawing applause.

Democrats and Republicans touched on issues of concern to the audience, from faith-based initiatives to immigration reform.

The Rev. Luis Cortes, president of Esperanza USA, urged members of Congress to pay particular attention to immigration.

“The immigration issue continues to be a problem,” he said. “We need you to do something. We need you to respond to this human need _ not a political need but a human need.”


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