The National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast
Remarks as prepared for delivery
by Secretary Mel Martinez
Thursday, May 16, 2002
Good morning. I appreciate your very generous welcome.
Thank you, Juan, for such a kind introduction. I also want to thank
Nueva Esperanza and the Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales
for hosting today's breakfast. The work of Reverend Cortés
and Nueva Esperanza is transforming the lives of Hispanic families
in Philadelphia in many wonderful ways.
Me siento honrado por la invitación que me han hecho para
participar en este primer desayuno Nacional Hispano de Oración.
Sé que para hacerlo posible se requirieron muchas oraciones.
I know you heard from the President this morning. I have had the
wonderful privilege to know this man, and I want you to know that
this is a President who appreciates the power of prayer, and the
role in prayer in this nation's history.
This Administration acknowledges that the community of faith does
tremendous good in America's neighborhoods. We are eager to expand
our partnership with you; to help your faith reach even farther
in helping those still reaching to attain the American Dream. The
President is passionate about his commitment to allowing those animated
by faith to intervene in our society.
I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts on the ways
in which prayer influences our work in government.
Your work to bring about this event today ought to be commended
- los felitico. This breakfast is an opportunity to highlight the
bond between faith and government that has stood at America's core
since America's earliest days. Our Constitution does not endorse
any particular faith, but our founders were deeply motivated by
The first official act of the Continental Congress was a call to
prayer, and the next day, an Episcopal clergyman offered the first
prayer before the Congress, saying:
"Be Thou present O God of Wisdom and direct the counsel of
this Honorable Assembly; enable them to settle all things on the
best and surest foundations..."
Prayers have been a part of our official record ever since.
We are strong as a nation and fiercely independent. But we have
never hesitated to admit our weaknesses before God, and turn to
him for comfort in our most difficult times.
I wonder how many Presidents have walked the halls of the White
House in the pre-dawn hours consumed by prayer when confronted by
difficulties that seemed to defy human solutions.
The history books record many examples.
President Bush often speaks of Abraham Lincoln and the inspiration
his portrait in the Oval Office provides. He admires that President
Lincoln, facing the prospect of a nation forever split apart by
civil war, had the awesome task of uniting our country. President
Lincoln understood the challenge, and once said, ''I have been driven
many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had
nowhere else to go.''
William McKinley acknowledged praying for "light and guidance
more than one night" while making his decision to seize the
As he did here this morning, President Bush has spoken often about
prayer and its role in his life. You might not know that the President
begins each Cabinet meeting with a prayer, as he did on the morning
of Friday, September the 14th.
That was the first time the entire Cabinet had come together since
the terrorist attacks three days earlier. The President asked Donald
Rumsfeld, our Secretary of Defense, to offer the prayer. His prayer
that day was so meaningful to me that I asked the Secretary for
it, and I would like to share it with you:
"Ever-faithful God, in death we are reminded of the precious
birthrights of life and liberty You endowed in Your American people.
You have shown once again that these gifts must never be taken for
"We pledge to those whom You have called home, and ask of
You - patience, to measure our lust for action; resolve, to strengthen
our obligation to lead; wisdom, to illuminate our pursuit of justice,
and; strength, in defense of liberty.
"We seek Your special blessing today for those who stand as
sword and shield, protecting the many from the tyranny of the few.
Our enduring prayer is that You shall always guide our labors and
that our battles shall always be just.
"We pray this day, Heavenly Father, the prayer our nation
learned at another time of righteous struggle and noble cause
-- America's enduring prayer: Not that God will be on our
side, but always, O Lord, that America will be on Your side.
The September tragedies led millions of Americans toward prayer.
Many of these prayers were wordless, the kind described by the Reverend
Billy Graham when he wrote, "The most eloquent prayer is the
prayer through hands that heal and bless. The highest form of worship
is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form
of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost
The outpouring of charity and volunteerism - the "unselfish
Christian service" - that followed the events of September
11th sent more than a billion dollars to the families of victims
and survivors. Americans devoted countless hours to bettering their
communities through public service.
We saw the power of people united by prayer.
Prayer is a compelling, motivating force. Just imagine the remarkable
transformations we could help to inspire in society if government
could do more to support and encourage the work of those brought
together by their faith.
This hope is at the heart of the President's Faith-Based and Community
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has sought out
partnerships with the faith community for more than three decades.
Last year alone:
Twenty-two faith-based groups partnered with us to help house the
HUD grants went to eight faith-based organizations serving disabled
Two hundred of the organizations serving persons with AIDS that
HUD funded last year are faith based.
These are just a few of many similar examples. Through the Faith-Based
and Community Initiatives, the Administration will invite more organizations
to create similar partnerships - not to replace your good work,
but to build on it and encourage others.
We understand that our best opportunity for easing suffering is
to tackle it from within, through the "coming together"
of neighbors concerned for one another and the health of their communities.
Government can help, but government cannot provide charity.
Christian charity by its very definition requires human contact
- one person effecting a personal transformation in another by taking
their hand, looking them in the eye, and serving them. This personal
contact with those in need is one of the basic principles of the
We will not try to limit the role of faith in the work of our partners,
or diminish their religions character. So many faith-based organizations
are successful because of their faith, not in spite of it. If you
tell us that you want to serve meals to the homeless and begin each
meal with a prayer, our response will be "Amen."
The best way for Washington to promote new acts of charity in our
communities is to empower you to be a greater force for good. As
we work to achieve this in the months ahead, I invite you and your
churches to join us at HUD in responding to the housing needs in
your neighborhoods. We have put out the welcome mat, and we want
you to come in.
Christian charity is not some abstract notion to me; over and over
in my life, I have been uplifted by the prayers and service of others.
I was just a boy of 15 when I arrived in this country, alone and
unable to speak the language. Volunteers animated by their faith
welcomed me here and cared for me. Later, I went to live with two
foster families who opened their homes - but more importantly, their
hearts - to me.
Looking back at that frightened and lonely boy, I am reminded of
Lincoln's words about being driven to his knees in prayer because
he had nowhere else to go. That is exactly the way I felt; I was
led to prayer because I had nowhere else to go. During that time,
my prayer life led me to learning in a new way about my faith in
Jesus Christ. And that was vital in getting me through what was
the most difficult period of my life.
As I go through life, I still find that returning to prayer and
relying on my faith is the way in which I get through those difficult
moments when it seems that everything is going wrong.
Time spent in government service is not a time for shelving the
faith that has led us through life. I believe that is the time when
- all the more - we must be a witness to our faith, so that others
might find support and encouragement through it. And we do that
best by the example we set, and the way in which we lead our lives.
So many of us who serve in government are people who love their
faith, their family, and their country. My hope is that when I leave
government, I leave loving all three equally - although Washington
can make this a challenge.
The President and the entire Cabinet are humbled and grateful for
your prayers. We are supported and strengthened by them. We join
you in praying for every American, and in giving thanks for the
opportunities and freedoms that bring us - and keep us - together.
We pray for our allies in the war against terrorism. We pray for
the men and women of the Armed Forces, who treasure our freedom
so much that they are willing to sacrifice their own lives to preserve
it for others.
Whether it is offered during times of grief or celebration, whether
it seeks guidance or is submitted out of gratitude, prayer will
always have a place in American society. I urge you to remember
the words of St. Paul: "Do not be anxious about anything, but
in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present
your requests to God."
Or as Benjamin Franklin put it even more simply, "Work as
if you were to live a hundred years. Pray as if you were to die
Que Dios los bendiga en compañía de sus familias
y que Dios siga bendiciendo también a este gran país:
a los Estados Unidos de Norteamérica.
Content Archived: March 16, 2010