The sounds of gospel music and fervent prayers to heaven boomed through loudspeakers across downtown as hundreds of people attending the 12th annual Save Our Cities Now Prayer Initiative gathered on the State Capitol steps under a scorch-ing sun.

The Saturday morning rally was hosted by the World Link of Churches and Businesses, an organization that includes 178 churches and businesses spread across America, Europe, the Middle East, South Africa and Haiti.

It is headed by Chief Apostle the Rev. Dr. Lloyd Benson Sr. and headquartered in his Baton Rouge church, the Cathedral World Worship Center on McCann Drive. He also leads Life Cathedral Worship Center in Gonzales with his son, the Rev. Lloyd Benson Jr.

The day began with a march from the Governor’s Mansion, up the Capitol Access Road between the Capitol Lakes and through Arsenal Park. The march culminated a weeklong Spirit of Pentecost conference.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference met in Baton Rouge at the same time and its president, Dr. Charles Steele Jr., marched on the front row with Benson and his team of bishops and pastors.

“What we’re praying for today is the reduction of this crime and this crazy murder and mayhem like what just happened in Lafayette,” Benson said prior to the march. “We’re praying against this evil force that is now taking over the country.

“Behind all of this is a spiritual problem. I feel that America needs a moral rebirth and that changes have to take place,” Benson said. “Our country was founded on biblical principles, and they found their solutions in the Bible and prayer. The Earth is still the Lord’s.”

As the marchers sang gospel songs, they followed men carrying a large banner declaring “One million people divided is one million people — one million people united is one people.”

Some marchers carried banners declaring “Save our Nation” and “God owns this state.” Many marchers carried SCLC posters celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

When they got to the Capitol and threaded their way through the new security bollards, they were met by dozens of others, including East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor Kip Holden, lawmakers and other officials and about a dozen men from the Nation of Islam’s Baton Rouge contingent.

As several music groups performed more gospel songs, the crowd sang and clapped along in unison.

“This is wonderful,” exclaimed Courtney Gordon, who drove down from Cincinnati, Ohio, for the conference.

“Yes, it is,” agreed Deborah Wheeler, of Baton Rouge.

“We pray you will hear the cries of your people that you may be able to bring justice, you may be able to bring healing and hope to your people in this great state,” said Apostle Michael Coleman, one of Benson’s pastors, to begin the prayer time.

“Dear God, today we ask you bless our hearts, souls, minds and body,” Holden prayed. “Today, I ask and pray that those who are still searching, that you give them the compass to everlasting life.”

Holden then presented Benson with a certificate proclaiming Save Our Cities Now Prayer Initiative Day.

Judge John Michael Guidry, of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, elicited some of the greatest audience response to his powerful and fervent prayer.

“We come to you in the precious name of Jesus knowing that at the name of Jesus, every knee must bow and every tongue must confess that there is power in the name of Jesus to stop the killing and power to stop the drug infestation, power to bring peace to our homes,” Guidry shouted. “We plead the blood of Jesus cover our young people and plead the blood of Jesus cover the streets of our cities. We come in that name for those in Charleston (South Carolina), we come in that name for those in Chattanooga (Tennessee), we come in that name for those in Lafayette, we come in that name for every street in our city.”

Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. told the crowd, “These (crime) problems can be solved, but we have to come together. I pledge to you we will continue to do that at the Baton Rouge Police Department.”

Pastor Keith Richard said there are over 2,000 homeless people in our city today.

“Your word, God, declares in Isaiah 58 that we should feed the homeless, clothe the naked, God, and we should bring justice into the city,” Richard prayed. “We stand today … beseeching you, O God, to provide for them as we feed them spiritually and naturally.”

State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, told how during this same event in 2010, they prayed for resolution to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“You declared that spill was going to stop in less than 20 days,” she said to Benson, “and guess what? It dried up. Only God stopped the spill.”

The Rev. Gerard A. Robinson Sr., pastor of McKowen Missionary Baptist Church, prayed “that people will know that there is a change coming and that change is going to impact people whether they are ready or not. … Thank you, in the mighty, matchless, melodious name of Jesus, we pray!”

After two hours of exuberant prayer, some political speechmaking and lively music under a sweltering sun, Benson asked the crowd to hold hands in unity.

“Father, thank you for knitting us together. … I pray for each and every United State and every country around the world. The earth is yours, Lord, and the fullness thereof,” Benson prayed. “I pray the heavens are opened over this city and opened over every state. … I pray against every satanic attack against our families in Jesus’ name.”