They came, they fasted and they prayed.
Thousands of people, including many youths, spent a marathon 12 hours on the Mall yesterday for TheCall DC, a combination Christian rock concert and day of prayer and fasting to God on behalf of the nation.
"Can you imagine how this moves the heart of heaven?" Lou Engle, organizer of the rally, asked the crowd midway through the gathering.
"Set your face toward this," he said by way of encouragement to the sweltering thousands sitting in the blazing sun. "I know it's hot, but thank God He's given us a breeze. We are not here for our convenience, but to move heaven. I did not come here to have a nice meeting while America is going to hell."
Organizers estimated 50,000 people were at the rally, a gathering point for corporate prayer for America, the coming elections, the reformation of American Christianity and an end to abortion. Worship music began at about 8:30 a.m., and the prayers and speeches were slated to last past 10 p.m.
Various speakers, including one-time Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, prayed for the country and its leaders. Others prayed against "addictions to sexual immorality," and at around noon, ushers passed out "purity covenants" that pledged the signee to confess to a trusted friend any time he or she viewed pornography or had extramarital sexual contact.
"Today there is a widespread tolerance of immorality in the church, from church leaders to the newest believer," said the Rev. Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. "God is wanting us to draw closer to Him on this. There is a spirit of glory about to be poured out on the church in this nation, but with that must come purity."
Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney led prayers for "godly men" and asked the crowd to pray for "a father's blessing" over the men present.
Organizers had projected several hundred thousand people to attend, but Mr. Engle said during the rally he was "thrilled" with the turnout. "I didn't expect 100,000," he said.
He spoke from a stage flanked with black and white banners showing an arrow pointing upward. Dozens of people wearing Jewish prayer shawls swayed back and forth; many others prayed facedown on mats or prostrate on the ground.
A delegation of 60 to 70 people from New Life Christian Center in Norfolk had set up a large cross - draped with a red cloth - among the trees.
"We're here to pray for the restoring of the principles on which our country was founded," said co-pastor Nancy Gerry. "I want to be part of history," stated her son, Christian, 10, holding a Spider-Man figurine.
Fellow church member Dwight McDowell said his 17-year-old daughter persuaded him to come. "The air here seems almost different," he mused. "If we get back to praying for our leaders, they might make wise and good decisions."
A variety of denominations were there, including a bus full of Catholics from Philadelphia who took turns holding up a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Two men holding it up said some Protestants had questioned them about it.
"People told us she is dead and gone," said Chris Dounas Lane, one of the two men. "But Our Lady is pregnant in this picture. She is our mother."
The Rev. Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life and the only Catholic speaker, prayed for an end to abortion and for the parents of aborted children.
"One drop of the blood of Jesus forgives all the abortions in the world," he said. As Father Pavone came up to speak, Mr. Engle brought an applauding crowd to its feet, he said, to thank the Catholic Church for fighting abortion.
Across Third Street from the rally was a sign proclaiming "3,500 Americans aborted daily," along with dozens of baby shoes, with tags, placed on the grass. "In loving memory to my daughter Moriah, I miss you so much," one tag read. "To my baby girl Pearl Ruby aborted at 12 weeks in March 1973," said another.