President Bush, Jordan's King Adbullah, and activist rock star Bono have gathered to speak of faith, peace and good works at Washington's annual prayer breakfast, an event designed to bring together people of all religions, and affirm a common belief in God.
The ecumenical setting achieved a rarity in Washington: a respite from partisan and international rancor and bickering. King Abdullah noted that the opening chapter of the Koran echoes the teachings of the Jewish Torah and the Christian Gospels. He then asked everyone to join in a prayer for the Middle East:
"That not one more generation will grow up knowing conflict and injustice, nor suffer from poverty or oppression," he said. "That not one more family will lose a loved one to war and bitterness, and that, together, Muslim, Jew and Christian, we can create a new future for the Holy Land: a future of peace."
President Bush, a devout Christian, said that, in the United States, people are free to practice any religion, or none at all. He said that people of faith and good conscience make America strong, and that the nation and the world have been aided by their efforts.
"After [Hurricane] Katrina, volunteers from churches, mosques and synagogues opened up their hearts and their homes to the displaced," said President Bush. "We saw an outpouring of compassion after the earthquake in Pakistan, and the [Asian] tsunami that devastated entire communities. In millions of acts of kindness, we have seen the good heart of America. The true strength of our country is not in our military might or the size of our wallet. It is in the hearts and souls of the American people."
The only person to speak with no political or government affiliation was Irish rock star Bono, an avid campaigner for debt relief and the battle against AIDS in Africa and elsewhere. Bono said that organized religion can be a force for good, but "can also get in the way of God." He said that religious people claiming to be acting in the name of God have stoked conflict in many parts of the world, including his native Ireland.
Bono praised President Bush for doubling aid to Africa, including AIDS relief, but said much more remains to be done.
"This is not about charity; it is about justice," he said. "We are good at charity. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who cannot afford it. But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice. It mocks our piety, it doubts our concern, and it questions our commitment. Six and a half thousand Africans are still dying every day of preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs that we can buy in any drugstore."
Bono urged the United States to double its overall international aid donation levels.
Begun in the 1950s, the annual prayer breakfast is hosted by U.S. lawmakers from both major political parties.