Thursday, February 2, 2006

The president was there, and so was a king, but a rock star in orange sunglasses stole the show at yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

U2 singer Bono, wearing a brown suit, a black shirt with an open collar and his trademark wraparound sunglasses, quoted the Koran, the Bible and the rock band Dire Straits as he urged President Bush to boost U.S. aid to the world’s poor by more than $25 billion a year.

With members of Congress and Jordan’s King Abdullah II in attendance for the first prayer breakfast to be led by a Jew — Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, a co-sponsor with Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat — Mr.Bono called on the U.S. to double its aid to the world’s impoverished. Such aid accounts for about 1 percent of the annual federal budget.

“Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America, I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing, which, to be truly meaningful, will need an additional 1 percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor,” he said.

Mr. Bono, who has met several times with the president in the White House, praised Mr. Bush for U.S. aid around the world, saying it would have been understandable if America had “drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors” after September 11.

“You should be very, very proud. But here’s the problem: There’s so much more to do. There is a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.”

The singer, spokesman for the ONE Campaign, which seeks to “make poverty history,” said it is “justice, not charity” that matters. He criticized the injustice of holding children responsible for the sins of their grandparents, as well as the unwillingness of the world’s most powerful nations to make lifesaving medicines available to the world’s poor.

“God will not accept that,” he said. “Mine won’t. Will yours?”

Mr. Bush did not address Bono’s call for more U.S. aid, but he sang the singer’s praises in a brief speech. “I’ve gotten to know Bono. He’s a doer. The thing about this good citizen of the world is he’s used his position to get things done,” Mr. Bush said.

The president, a Methodist, expounded on the power of prayer. “In prayer, we open ourselves to God’s priority, especially His charge to feed the hungry, to reach out to the poor, to bring aid to the widow or the orphan. … Through prayer, our faith is strengthened, our hearts are humbled, and our lives are transformed,” Mr. Bush said.

At the end of the morning event at the Washington Hilton, King Abdullah led the audience in a Muslim prayer for peace in the Middle East.

Among those in the audience were Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John Kerry of Massachusetts, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.

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