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National Day of Prayer

Remarks as prepared for delivery by
Secretary Mel Martinez

Washington, DC
Thursday, May 2, 2002

Thank you, Dr. Dobson, for your very generous introduction. And I want to thank your wife Shirley for the devoted service she has brought to the National Day of Prayer Task Force as its chairman for the past 11 years.

I also want to acknowledge co-chair Bonnette Bright, who is the wife of Dr. Bill Bright. Both are from my home city of Orlando. I know what a great job Bonnette and Bill have done with Campus Crusade for Christ, and what a wonderful thing it was for Orlando when they moved there.

I am honored to be with you representing the Bush Administration on this National Day of Prayer. The President asked me to relay to you his warmest greetings. While prayer is obviously a very personal and individual experience, I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts on the ways in which prayer influences my life and our work in government.

The National Day of Prayer marks a precious and longstanding tradition: 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, or sat at that great desk in the Oval Office late into the night, consumed by prayer when confronted by difficulties that seemed to defy human solutions.

The history books record many examples.

Abraham Lincoln, facing the prospect of a nation forever split apart by civil war, 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.

President Kennedy concluded his inaugural address with a vow to ''go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God's work must truly be our own.''

Of course, President George W. Bush has spoken often about prayer and its role in his life. Especially since the events of September 11th, the rest of America has seen what those close to the President already know: that he is a man who relies on his faith and lives it in a very profound way.

Prayer guides the President and Laura Bush daily, in their everyday lives. And the First Family is quick to acknowledge that they find great strength in the prayers of others. President Bush has spoken publicly about how touching and important it is when strangers tell him that they are praying for him and his family. The President calls the prayers of the people "a gracious gift."

Whether the prayer is his own, or the prayer comes from others, President Bush believes that prayer is more important now than ever.

You might not know that the President begins each Cabinet meeting with a prayer. On the morning of Friday, September the 14th - the first meeting of the entire Cabinet following the terrorist attacks - he 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 of prayer 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."

Over and over in my life, I have been sustained by my faith and uplifted by the prayers and unselfish Christian 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, opened 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.

Our 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 Washington, I leave loving all three equally - although Washington can make this a challenge.

In our faith, we find strength.

And in your prayers, we find great comfort. The President and the entire Cabinet are humbled and grateful for your prayers. We feel your prayers and 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."

May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Content Archived: March 16, 2010

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