- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

President Bush yesterday praised the American people for holding fast during a "testing time for our country" involving terrorism, the prospect of war against Iraq and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster during the 51st National Prayer Breakfast.
"This is a testing time for our country," Mr. Bush told 3,000 people assembled at official Washington's yearly faith event at the Washington Hilton. "At this hour, we have troops that are assembling in the Middle East. There's oppressive regimes that seek terrible weapons. We face an ongoing threat of terror.
"One thing is for certain: We didn't ask for these challenges, but we will meet them. I say that with certainty, because this nation has strong foundations that won't be shaken."
Then, as if to showcase the nation's military and intelligence capabilities, the president motioned to Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Central Intelligence Agency Director George J. Tenet, both of whom were seated at the head table.
"It is fitting," the president said, "that in the midst of tough times that these two leaders are sharing Scripture and prayer with the country."
The CIA director's appearance at an event normally reserved for members of Congress, foreign guests and various evangelical Christians from around the country was precedent-setting, according to one evangelical leader.
"Even by Washington standards, that's a statement of sorts," said the leader, who asked to remain anonymous. "This is a breakfast that's become an American civil rite."
Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican, chaired the large event, which was also geared toward mourning Saturday's deaths of the seven astronauts aboard Columbia. Contemporary Christian musician Michael W. Smith memorialized the Columbia crew in his piano solo, "You Left Too Soon," composed during the weekend.
Keynote speaker Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, delivered a no-nonsense message urging listeners not to indulge in self-pity.
"Like many people here and abroad, I've turned to God more and more in this past year and one-half, including this past Saturday morning," said Miss Rice, who identified herself as "the daughter, granddaughter and the niece of ordained Presbyterian ministers." Quoting the New Testament, the Talmud and the Koran, she called struggle "a privilege," because "it's through struggle we find redemption and self-knowledge."
"Everyone in this room has been blessed," she said. "I am sure we all know that it is a dangerous thing to think about the hand one has been dealt when we end up questioning why someone else has even more. If on the other hand, we think about our blessings and ask why we have been given so much and others so little, it is sobering and humbling.
"We must find ways to let go of the pain of bad memories and the sense of unfairness of 'Why me?' that inevitably accompanies turmoil. That lesson applies not only to people, but to nations. America emerged from the losses of September 11 as a nation not only stronger, but better and more generous."
Yesterday's breakfast, billed as a way to "celebrate our common faith in God," had guests from 154 countries, including three heads of government, 21 Cabinet ministers, 111 members of parliament, 51 ambassadors to the United Nations, several U.S. Cabinet members, 56 U.S. senators and 141 members of the House of Representatives.
It is sponsored by the Fellowship, a Northern Virginia-based group that sponsors weekly prayer meetings for members of Congress. Even since President Eisenhower attended one of the meetings in 1953, it's become an annual event with a speech by the president and a speaker whose identity is kept secret until the day of the event. Past keynote speakers included Mother Teresa and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.

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