- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

For more than 50 years, ham, eggs and homilies have been the recipe for quietly bringing together the world's most powerful people. Once again, they are coming to Washington to attend tomorrow's annual National Prayer Breakfast.

President Bush, who called Jesus his favorite philosopher on the campaign trail and this week proposed government funding for "faith-based" social services, is expected to join the breakfast at the Washington Hilton.

"Every president has been invited for 51 years, and every president has attended for 51 years," said Joe Mitchell, spokesman for organizers, who expect 3,500 to 4,000 people.

Rep. Zach Wamp, Tennessee Republican and this year's events chairman, said representatives from 170 nations will attend, including 12 heads of state and government.

The White House, the State Department, Congress and event organizers declined to provide a list of international VIP participants.

"We have a policy of not commenting on who is expected to come because we honestly do not know who is coming until they get here," said Mr. Mitchell.

For Boris Trajkovski, a onetime Methodist preacher, tomorrow will be his third prayer breakfast but the first in his new job president of the small Balkan state of Macedonia.

Mr. Trajkovski, who took office last year, said the ecumenical spirit of the prayer breakfast is a powerful example for his own country, which must deal daily with the ethnic tensions that have long troubled the Balkans.

"It's a reminder to me once a year that people leading countries all over the world need this kind of gathering," he said.

Like many foreign dignitaries in town for the breakfast, the Macedonian president said he also will use his time here to establish contacts with the new Bush administration and speak to a local think tank on Macedonia's plight.

Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Dan Goeana, who will be attending his sixth prayer breakfast, said the event stirs vivid memories.

"I have become very emotionally involved in the event, and see many, many friends when I go," he said. "The fact that you can see Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, Jews and so many other faiths believing in the same set of values is a powerful message."

Mr. Goeana, the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), met with members of the U.N. Security Council earlier this week and, like Mr. Trajkovski, will meet privately with Secretary of State Colin Powell during his stay.

Started in 1942, the National Prayer Breakfast it is held by the Fellowship Foundation, a Virginia-based ecumenical evangelical organization that shuns publicity.

Run by David Coe, the group is variously described as "covert" and "secretive" in its understated ministry to the world's political leaders.

"They are exceptionally circumspect to give an opportunity to world leaders to be engaged in enhancing religion in statecraft," said Russ Spittler, provost dean of academic affairs at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. "It is very quiet, subdued, not hyped at all. An aggressively asserted religious impulse is deadly in politics."

The event drew almost no media coverage until 1994, when Mother Teresa attended and spoke on abortion. President Clinton drew considerable coverage in 1999, when he attended just after his impeachment.

Stories abound about how Christian leaders who met at the prayer breakfast forged fast friendships that later helped resolve civil conflicts.

One example, detailed in the book "Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft," by Doug Johnston, describes the meeting of Kenyan diplomat Washington Okumu and South African Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi after one breakfast.

As a result, Mr. Okumu's mediation as a fellow Christian averted a conflict between the Zulus and the African National Congress in post-apartheid South Africa.

But prayer diplomacy is not always successful. Last year, several pro-Israeli Jewish and Christian groups boycotted the event when it became known that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat would attend.

There is some hope that Rwandan President Paul Kagame and new Congo President Joseph Kabila will be able to meet and pray, leading to a breakthrough in efforts to end their nations' protracted war.

• Staff reporter Larry Witham contributed to this article.

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