The global "wave of prayer" to eradicate hunger reached the U.S. Capitol with participants in an interfaith prayer service asking God to guide all people to better see and understand the needs of people living in poverty.
During the noontime service on Dec. 10, many of the prayers focused on government decision-makers who have targeted various federal food programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for decreased government spending.
"We really need to pray that God will lead members of Congress, our nation's leaders and the people of this nation to make decisions on this and other issues that will help get us to the end of hunger," said the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister and president of the Christian citizens' anti-hunger organization Bread for the World.
The wave of prayer was one of hundreds of services that cascaded around the world at noon local time under an initiative of Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based federation of Catholic charities. The effort is aimed at prayer and action to relieve hunger around the world through May 2015.
Nearly 50 people crowded into a first-floor meeting room in the Capitol's House wing to recite a prayer developed by Caritas Internationalis. They were joined by three members of Congress: Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Rep. David Price, D-N.C.
Several participants offered prayers of thanksgiving for the inspirational words of Pope Francis, who has repeatedly invited the world to reach out and care for people in need in developed and undeveloped countries alike.
"Let's pray not just as a symbol, but believing that our prayers have power," said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, who joined the service as he was in the sixth day of a water-only fast as part of the Fast for Families tent community outside the Capitol on the National Mall. The organization is utilizing prayer, public witness and fasting in pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform.
The hungry are "part of our family," Rev. Wallis prayed. "We lift them up now. We intercede for them and we pray that somehow their stories would reach this place," he said.
"We pray that you help ... us understand that this isn't just politics, it isn't just policy, it isn't about who wins and loses. It's about particular mothers, particular fathers, particular children. It's names we know. So we lift up those names in this place," he said.
Those offering prayers also remembered the plight of undocumented immigrants the world over, American children who go to school hungry and the people living in tent camps in war-ravaged Syria and in Haiti, nearly four years after a devastating earthquake.
Sister Marge Clark, a domestic-issues lobbyist for Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, prayed that low-wage workers receive just compensation for their labor as well as their employers to "be struck with a sense of justice."
"May they receive in justice the resources to feed themselves and their families," prayed the member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Rev. Gary Cook, a staff member of Bread for the World, asked God for forgiveness as he "confessed our complicity" in decisions that cause hunger in others. "Help us rearrange our priorities so that all may eat," he said.
Afterward, McGovern, who is Catholic and co-chairs the hunger caucus in Congress, told Catholic News Service that hunger in the U.S. could end if elected representatives felt it was prudent to do so.
"Hunger is a political condition," he said. "We can solve this problem. All we need is the political will."
He said support for federally funded food and nutrition programs has waned because "critics of these programs create a distortion" by portraying enrollees as criminals or as unwilling to work.
"When you see the face of hunger, it changes you," he said, explaining that he regularly visits hunger centers in his Massachusetts district and has visited poverty-stricken communities worldwide. "When you see a hungry child, it breaks your heart and you can't get it out of your mind. I do think when people see things firsthand they get enlightened."
Across town at The Catholic University of America, the message was much the same as church leaders called on God to inspire government and business leaders to help end global hunger during a prayer service.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, a university trustee, led students in prayer at Caldwell Chapel, asking God for assistance in sharing "food with all members in this global family."
"Through your wisdom, inspire leaders of government and of business, as well as all the world's citizens, to find just and charitable solutions to end hunger by assuring that all people enjoy the right to food," Cardinal Wuerl prayed.
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and university president John Garvey joined the prayer service.