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The National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

Remarks as prepared for delivery
by Secretary Mel Martinez

Washington, DC
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 faith.

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 Philippines.

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 granted.

"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 and helpless."

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 Initiatives.

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 elderly…

HUD grants went to eight faith-based organizations serving disabled individuals…

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 faith-based program.

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 tomorrow."

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

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