Bush, speaking at the 50th annual National Prayer Breakfast, told a packed hotel ballroom that he has been comforted by prayers for him and his family during the national crisis. "Since we met last year, millions of Americans have been led to prayer," Bush said. "They have prayed for comfort in time of grief; for understanding in a time of anger; for protection in a time of uncertainty. Many, including me, have been on bended knee."
In an eloquent 10-minute speech, Bush said the heroism of rescue workers and the courage of military personnel in Afghanistan have shown the importance and need for faith. "Tremendous challenges await this nation, and there will be hardships ahead," Bush said. "Faith will not make our path easy, but it will give us strength for the journey."
"The promise of faith is not the absence of suffering, it is the presence of grace," he said.
The prayer meeting--the first held since the terrorist attacks--took on special significance this year. The hundreds of guests, including members of Congress, military leaders and rescue heroes, seemed to embody the national spiritual openness that has emerged since the terrorist attacks.
Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., prayed that "we are stripped and scarred, oh Lord, and we need the salve of your love." Edwards prayed for "strength and for strength of character, that we may reach across aisles, and borders, and oceans to do the good that you would have us do." He was joined in prayer by Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, whose father was a Presbyterian minister. "These have been months when our intellect has been insufficient to answer the question of why," Rice prayed, "and our vulnerability to evil and the certainty of our mortality has been all too clear."
Much has changed since Bush's first appearance at the annual prayer breakfast a year ago. Just weeks into office, Bush was trumpeting his plan to funnel federal money to religious charities that provide social services. A year later, that bill still languishes on Capitol Hill.
After the breakfast, Bush met at the White House with Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rick Santorum, R-Pa., to announce a scaled-back, compromise version of the plan that leaves out many of its controversial elements. The renewed legislative push, coupled with Bush's remarks at the prayer breakfast, highlighted again the president's public embrace of religion and how its values have shaped his administration. "Faith gives the assurance that our lives and our history have a moral design," he said. "As individuals, we know that suffering is temporary and hope is eternal. As a nation, we know that the ruthless will not inherit the Earth."