President Bush yesterday called on the nation to return to its roots of faith and prayer, asking all Americans to "humbly recognize our continued dependence on divine Providence."
"America is a nation of prayer. It's impossible to tell the story of our nation without telling the story of people who pray," the president said during an early morning celebration of the 55th annual National Day of Prayer in the White House East Room. "At decisive moments in our history and in quiet times around family tables, we are a people humbled and strengthened and blessed by prayer."
He bowed his head several times as Christian and Jewish leaders offered prayers. He also referred to the nation's first wartime president, citing the importance that prayer played in his life.
"During the darkest days of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress and George Washington -- I call him the first George W.," Mr. Bush said to laughter, "urged citizens to pray and to give thanks and to ask for God's protection."
In 1952, Congress passed a bill in a unanimous vote proclaiming an annual National Day of Prayer, usually the first Thursday of May.
Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer committee, was present at the White House ceremony.
"You have to appreciate that we have a man in the White House who seeks God in the highest office in the nation," she told about 400 people gathered for additional Day of Prayer observances yesterday afternoon on Capitol Hill.
Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said the president regularly opened his Cabinet meetings with prayer and urged the crowd to seek "the guidance from communing with the source of all wisdom: our Heavenly Father."
Senate Chaplain Barry Black gave a lesson on praying under despairing circumstances.
"The problem in America is we know what to do when God says yes, we know what to do when God says no, but what do we do when God says nothing?" he said. "You then must persevere in prayer."
Retired Judge Charles W. Pickering spoke on the supportive prayer network he experienced during contentious confirmation hearings to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003. After Republicans failed to get the judge's nomination passed in the Senate, Mr. Bush gave him a recess appointment in 2004 that expired in January 2005.
After undergoing two more Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to extend his term, he announced he would retire instead.
"Although I was not confirmed, I was given opportunities for service," he said. "I do not always suggest we'll always get what we pray for," adding that sometimes prayer is answered over a longer span of time.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, then exhorted the crowd to "preach the truth."
"Don't be afraid to preach the truth," he said, "in a world that tries to intimidate you into political correctness."