Pastor Notes Increased Enthusiasm at National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

WASHINGTON – A Hispanic pastor, who oversees an organization devoted to helping the Hispanic American community, believes that the energy moving toward immigration reform has increased greatly.

The Rev. Luis Cortés, Jr., president of the Philadelphia, Pa.-based organization Esperanza, told The Christian Post at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, that compared to several years ago, the attendees were "more enthused" over the progress on immigration reform.

"When we had the event two years ago, there was less movement on the immigration issue. So we're more enthused by the fact that it is being discussed in the Senate," said Cortés.

"We're hoping that the Senate can come up with an agreement by July sometime that the House will pick it up. We are hopeful that both Republican and Democratic leadership can address this and they can forge toward the middle."

Cortés' remarks came on the last day of a three-day conference organized by Esperanza known as the 2013 National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference.

The first two days involved events at the Capital Hilton, with the Prayer Breakfast being held Thursday morning at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

Marcos Witt, five-time Latin Grammy award-winning singer who served as emcee for the breakfast, gave the opening remarks.

"What a joy to be here with you this morning," said Witt. "We have some amazing speakers and singers and clergy and members of Hispanic leadership that are here from all over the country."

Witt described the event as "bilingual," as attendees heard music throughout the event performed by various singers, with songs in English and Spanish. Prayers and the occasional speech also included both languages.

There were several guests and honorees who were involved in the morning event, which went nearly an hour over its planned conclusion.

Those who either led prayer or delivered remarks included Dr. Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project; Father Mark Muñoz of the Greek Orthodox Church; the Rev Efraim Espinoza, director of the Office of Hispanic Relations for the Assemblies of God; and Tony Plana, a Cuban-born actor who received Esperanza's 2013 Image Award.

Receiving the honor for his work on education reform among the Latino community, Plana spoke about how his parents gave him a good Christian upbringing.

"This particular recognition is particularly meaningful to me. My parents...would be extremely proud," said Plana, "because I am being recognized by a faith-based organization."

"They came to this country because they wanted the freedom to worship the faith of their choice. And they wanted their children educated in the faith of their choice."

Among those present who gave remarks were prominent federal-level Democrats and Republicans, including Republican Senator John Cornyn III of Texas, Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Democratic Congresswoman and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Vice President Joe Biden.

In his speech, Biden said that whatever the immigrant community, be it Hispanic, Polish, or Irish, there was a strong sense of "incredible pride," which is something that people "should welcome…into the American fold."

"I think the Vice President said that well in his speech where he talked about in 1850s we had the Irish come in and now it's the Latinos who have come in," said Cortés to CP.

"We are part of the United States and we take care of our neighbor. We have the same Christian values. We're Christian people. So love is our mandate and so we love. And we love our neighbors. So for me I just see it as part of the history of this country."

 Since 2003, Esperanza has held the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast every two years. Cortés told CP that the event only seems to get better with time.

"It feels great. Every time we've managed to do this, its been a little bit better and a little better, so we hope that that will continue," said Cortés.

"We're very happy that we had both parties present and that both parties are participating not just today but everyday for the three days we were here. I'm hopeful."

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