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"The will to pray together is the most important thing," Bocelli said.

Attendance at the National Prayer Breakfast is an annual exercise of public piety for Washington elites. This morning, the Washington Hilton buzzed as the 61st annual event began. About 3,000 guests from 50 states and over 160 countries gathered together in the largest ballroom in D.C.

Ben Carson, best-selling author and director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins, delivered the keynote address.

Carson, who also gave the keynote in 1997, joins the ranks of former keynote speakers such as Mother Teresa, Bono, and Tony Blair. Eric Metaxas, author of the popular Bonheoffer biography, delivered a powerful pro-life address in 2012.

Carson opened his speech with a denunciation of political correctness: "It's not my intention to offend people but we've got to get over sensitivity. It muffles and muzzles people and keeps them from discussing important issues. We must speak up for what we really believe."

He said the way forward to address the nation's greatest troubles is for political opponents to set aside special interests and commit themselves working together comprehensively. He asked, "Why is an eagle able to fly high? Because it has a left wing and a right wing."

Gabby Douglas, the Olympic gold medal gymnast, gave the closing prayer.

The National Prayer Breakfast itself is only one part of a series of formal meals and panel discussions, as well as informal conversations. "The event has symbolism, but the true meaning is sitting in the lobby," said Kedrick Pickering, deputy premier of the British Virgin Islands who has attended 11 prayer breakfasts. Hosted by members of the House and Senate, each participant is invited directly by either a Congressman or their delegated surrogate.

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