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'Super Vigil' rallies to support the poor as federal budget cuts loom

By Bethany Crudele, CNN
updated 11:06 PM EST, Sun November 20, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A prayer vigil is held urging Congress not to make budget cuts that would hurt the poor
  • Similar vigils are scheduled this week in Los Angeles, Richmond, Philadelphia and Dallas
  • A minister asks God "to move the hearts of policy makers"

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Just hours after Republican and Democratic aides confirmed to CNN that the so-called super committee will likely fail to reach a bipartisan deficit reduction deal, a national prayer vigil was held in Lafayette Park near the White House.

Religious coalition members from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities held the vigil to urge Congress not to make budget cuts that would likely impact the poor. The event was led by the "Faithful Budget Campaign" an effort by an interfaith group that believes in the shared obligation to "lift up the most vulnerable members of the community" through gatherings of worship.

"Our government in this time of need should not be placing undo burdens on the poor while shielding the wealthiest in our midst from sacrifice," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ.

Leading the crowd in prayer, Kinnamon said, "We gather this time with an audacious purpose and that is to ask God ,,, to move the hearts of policy makers that they will act and make decisions with compassion and fairness."

Similar vigils will be held this week in Los Angeles; Richmond, Virginia; Philadelphia and Dallas.

The event Sunday began with a "Call for Awakening" by the blowing of the shofar, a traditional horn used in the Jewish observances including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A "Call for Righteousness" followed with a reading from the Quran.

Ruth von Fleckenstein, a Washington, resident and member of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church says she decided to attend Sunday's vigil out of concern for the city's homeless population. Fleckenstein said she's frustrated with the policies of Congress. "You cannot make a nation strong by hurting the vulnerable people. The wealthy need to pay their share," she said.

Sirfaraz Piracha, another attendee of the vigil, said he hopes Congress hears their prayers and their message and offered his advice to Congress: "Look back at the people who elected you."

"Look at who went to the poll and voted...(members of Congress should say) 'Though you didn't donate to me, you voted for me and you still matter.'"

While committee members remain pressured to comply with a Wednesday deadline, a product from the committee would be necessary on Monday in order to ensure a review by the Congressional Budget Office.

Marco Grimaldo, another Washington resident, said despite the committee's inability to reach a deal on how to slash the nation's debt, he's encouraged by the activism and prayer services he attended.

"We want to create a circle of protection around programs that help hungry and poor people," he said, insisting that programs on the chopping block could mean life or death for members of his community.

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