- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

Millions of Americans, regardless of religious beliefs, will gather today in their work places, homes and at organized events to pray in recognition of the 51st annual National Day of Prayer.

The prayers will embrace the central theme of a "poignant reminder of the tragedy that brought together a nation on September 11," said organizers on the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

"The American psyche was rocked by the horrific evil perpetrated on September 11," said task force Chairman Shirley Dobson. "Many have sought meaning, security and spiritual comfort in its wake."

With service men and women defending the United States in distant lands and with families trying to heal from the tragedies of last fall, Mrs Dobson said Americans have drawn closer to God, much like the country's forefathers did when faced with unseen enemies and unrest.

Although persons of all faiths and denominations are invited to gather for prayer, the task force has adopted Psalm 46:1 "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble" to establish the theme.

In the District, the activities of the day will center around an event inside the caucus room at the Cannon House Office Building. Current and former government and military representatives will gather in the room for prayer and discussion about the prayer needs of the three branches of government.

A prayer gathering also will be held this evening on the West lawn of the U.S. Capitol, and a nationally broadcast concert of prayer will be held tonight at Constitution Hall.

All three events are free and open to the general public, but seating is limited at Constitution hall. Organizers recommend that persons without tickets arrive at 7 p.m.

Although an official National Day of Prayer was not established before 1952, the concept dates back to 1775, when the Continental Congress asked the Colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation.

In 1863, President Lincoln, amid the tumultuous trials of the Civil War, brought new life to the idea by signing a proclamation for a day of "humiliation, fasting, and prayer."

Nearly a century later, after a joint resolution by Congress, President Truman declared the day to be an annual event named the National Day of Prayer.

In 1988, the resolution was amended and signed by President Reagan, permanently setting aside the first Thursday of every May for the observance.

Each year since, the president has signed a proclamation, encouraging all Americans, regardless of their denomination, to recognize the day by gathering for prayer.

President Bush's proclamation this year said: "None of us would ever wish on anyone what happened on September 11. Yet tragedy and sorrow none of us would choose have brought forth wisdom, courage, and generosity. In the face of terrorist attacks, prayer provided Americans with hope and strength for the journey ahead."

It was estimated that more than 2 million people attended about 30,000 prayer gatherings nationwide last year.

Organizers said the largest prayer gathering today will be in Chattanooga, Tenn., where as many as 20,000 people are expected to show up at Finley Stadium for songs and prayer. Donations received at the gathering will be given back to the city to help the poor.

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