- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

September 11 was the focus for countless hundreds who continually jammed a Capitol Hill meeting room for more than five hours yesterday, ushering in four National Day of Prayer programs in Washington.

"Pray this nation never again will suffer like on September 11," said the national president, the Rev. Dick Eastman, referring to terrorist strikes on the twin World Trade towers in New York City and on the Pentagon.

The prayer was repeated with various slants by speakers and musicians from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building.

The Caucus Room was constantly packed with about 350 visitors and guests. Long lines formed outside the entrance, watching and listening to the program on television monitors until they could replace some earlier participants who left the room.

"I've been here every time," said Jayne Yung, of Martinsburg, W.Va., "but I've only been in the room two or three times."

"We came to pray," she said, referring to her sister, Alice Holland, of Springfield, who also is a member of Aglow International Ministry, an organization with groups in 148 nations.

Mrs. Yung said they would also attend the program in the evening on the West Lawn of the Capitol. The other programs last night were at Israel Baptist Church on Saratoga Avenue NE and at Constitution Hall.

President Bush and his wife, Laura, hosted a gathering in the White House East Room to commemorate the occasion, joined by a gospel choir that sang "Amazing Grace." Saying "America is a country of faith," the president and Mrs. Bush bowed their heads in prayer with about 200 people invited to the White House.

"Prayer is central to the lives of countless Americans, including Laura's and mine. America is a country of faith, and throughout our history, in times of crisis and in times of calm, Americans have always turned to prayer," Mr. Bush said.

The president said that the National Day of Prayer had a special resonance after the September 11 attacks on New York and suburban Washington, which he said had led "millions of Americans of every religious faith" to prayer.

"God is our refuge and our strength," Mrs. Bush said as she read Psalm 46 during the ceremony.

"My husband and I find strength in the word of the Lord, and we realize the power that prayer has in our own lives. I'm truly blessed to be married to a man who's strong enough to bear the burdens and humble enough to ask God for help," she said to calls of "Amen" and applause from the audience.

Shirley Dobson, who heads the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a nonprofit group that promotes observance of the day "in alignment with its Christian beliefs," thanked Mr. Bush for hosting the event at the White House.

"May the Lord put a shield of protection around you, your family and the United States of America," she said, prompting audience members to murmur "Amen" and "Yes."

Organizers predicted a record number of millions would attend 40,000 similar National Day of Prayer events across the nation. There were about 30,000 programs last year in courthouses, businesses, parks, churches and around school flagpoles.

The concept for the day of prayer began on Feb. 19, 1795, when President Washington proclaimed a day of public thanksgiving. About 150 years later, Congress and President Truman declared an annual event called National Day of Prayer. An act of Congress in 1952 declared an annual national day of prayer, and in 1988, President Reagan set the day on the first Thursday of May.

Each of the three branches of government participated in the Caucus Room program. Their representative speakers were Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, a Republican; Rep. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina Democrat; and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge David Sentelle.

Among the first into the Caucus Room yesterday were 130 high school juniors from Chicago. They were in town for a week under the "Close Up" program to watch and learn about government functions and operations.

"I didn't know about this until last night," said Michael Urr, 41, an English teacher. "We thought it would be good to attend."

Albert Lee, 70, of Temple Hills, has been attending the Capitol program for 10 years and noted that it "is spreading across the country."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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