President Bush yesterday said that affirming God's supremacy "is particularly appropriate in the heart of a capital built upon the promise of self-government" and called for "opening ourselves to God's priorities" at the National Prayer Breakfast.
"Prayer has always been one of the great equalizers in American life," he told thousands of faithful at the Washington Hilton & Towers. "Through fellowship and prayer, we acknowledge that all power is temporary and must ultimately answer to His purposes."
Mr. Bush, who regards Abraham Lincoln as America's greatest president, cited the 16th president's reference to God after he was elected to a second term in November 1864.
"Lincoln declared he would be 'the most shallow and self-conceited blockhead on earth' if he ever thought he could do his job without the wisdom which comes from God and not from men," Mr. Bush said.
The reference recalled the president's own words during an interview with The Washington Times last month.
"I don't see how you can be president, at least from my perspective, how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord," he told editors and reporters of The Times in the Oval Office.
Mr. Bush addressed a multidenominational, bipartisan, early morning gathering that included Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, who tried to suppress numerous yawns. Like many in the crowd, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, Mr. Kerry had been up late the night before to attend the president's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill.
"Last night was a prayerful occasion -- I noticed a lot of members were praying that I would keep my speech short," Mr. Bush joked. "Thank you for getting up so early in the morning -- you resisted temptation to sleep in."
Turning serious, the president emphasized the common values of different religious faiths.
"We thank God for his great blessings in one voice, regardless of our backgrounds," he said. "We recognize in one another the spark of the Divine that gives all human beings their inherent dignity and worth, regardless of religion."
Yesterday, Mr. Bush said he has witnessed "miracles" made possible by the power of prayer. He recalled meeting Veronica Braewell, a 20-year-old refugee from Liberia, in June.
"As a 13-year-old child, Veronica witnessed armed men killing children in horrific ways," he said. "As she fled this madness, Veronica was left for dead atop a pile of bodies, until her grandmother found her."
She was brought to Pennsylvania, where a Catholic charity found her a home and a job in a nursing home. She is studying to become a nursing assistant.
"When Veronica told me of her story, it was through the kind of tears no young woman should ever know," Mr. Bush said. "And when she finished, she dried her eyes and said, 'Thank you, Mr. President, for my freedom.'
"I told her it wasn't me she needed to thank; she needed to thank the good hearts of the United States of America. The America that embraced Veronica would not be possible without the prayer that drives and leads and sustains our armies of compassion."
Mr. Bush also said people of faith need to pray to find the compassion necessary to fulfill their beliefs.
"For prayer means more than presenting God with our plans and desires; prayer also means opening ourselves to God's priorities, especially by hearing the cry of the poor and the less fortunate," Mr. Bush said.
"When the tsunamis hit those on the far side of the world, the American government rightly responded. But the American response is so much more than what our government agencies did."
Mr. Bush was preceded to the lectern by Tony P. Hall, chief of the U.S. mission to the United Nations Agencies in Rome.
"We don't pray enough for leaders," said Mr. Hall, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio. "I know that today we're going to pray for the president -- all the people that are here -- but what are we going to do tomorrow? We need to pray for our president every day."
Evangelist Billy Graham sent a letter of support.
"I very much regret that my strength will not allow me to return to Washington for the breakfast this year, as I have done so many times in the past," he wrote. "Our world has many serious problems, some of them critical. We are in great need of a spiritual awakening."
The 53rd annual breakfast was sponsored by the Fellowship Foundation, an Arlington-based ministry that, among other ventures, organizes monthly breakfasts for members of Congress. Its founder, Douglas Coe, 76, was named one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals by Time magazine this week.