WASHINGTON — Several world leaders were among more than 3,000 guests at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, held Thursday in Washington. Leaders often see the gathering as an opportunity to encourage the use of religious values as a basis for political leadership.
President Barack Obama welcomed international guests to the prayer breakfast, as has every U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower in 1953.
"It's wonderful to see all of the dignitaries and friends who are here today," he said. "To the presidents and prime ministers..."
U.S. presidents often use the occasion to stress the importance of incorporating the values of faith in their leadership according to Joe Eldridge, the chaplain at Washington's American University.
"I think people want to see their leader speak from the heart and speak authentically about how he has been shaped by his own faith experience and how those values instill - in the executive decisions he makes in the White House, how they inform his governance of this country," he said.
Albania's president, Bujar Nishani, told VOA's Albanian Service the prayer breakfast's main message is universal.
"The messages permeating the prayer breakfast, especially those contained in President Obama's speech and all the senators, congressmen, and other invitees, focused on the contact between people, the respect for each other, the respect for what everybody represents, regardless of faith, political party and race,” he said.
The patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, told VOA's Ukrainian Service he believed the leaders in Kyiv would benefit from Obama's message.
"And everyone who has power in the state is supposed to be a servant, to serve his own people," he said. "And I think for those politicians from Ukraine who were present, it was a good lecture."
The patriarch, who was attending his first prayer breakfast, said it was a good opportunity to meet other leaders.
"It was a great possibility, not only to represent Ukraine, but also make connections, meet people and transmit truth about Ukraine and the situation in Ukraine," he said.
Alexander Karadjordjevic, a member of Serbia's former royal family, has attended numerous prayer breakfasts. He told VOA's Serbian Service he also enjoys talking with fellow dignitaries.
"We make friends with the world," he said. "And this is vital, that the friendship continues, and also we respect all religions, and we hope to go back home and continue that friendship."
The Washington prayer breakfast represents a different kind of dynamic from a political summit, as Haiti's President Michel Martelly told the VOA Creole Service.
"I met many world leaders. I met some government officials, and I had some new friends, so it was a very interesting experience and I think I'm going to be there again next year," he said.
While the U.S. president hosts the National Prayer Breakfast, the event is sponsored by members of Congress and organized by a conservative Christian organization often known as "The Family."