THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please sit down. Please be seated. Thank you all. Thanks for coming. Good afternoon and welcome to the White House. I'm honored to join you at this important annual event.
Since the Continental Congress sat in Philadelphia, America has, from time to time, set aside a national day of prayer. Under a law signed by President Ronald Reagan, that day comes every year on the first Thursday in May. That would be today. (Laughter.)
Today, in our Nation's Capital and around the country, we pause to acknowledge our reliance on almighty God, to join in gratitude for His blessings, and to seek His guidance in our lives and for our nation.
Prayer and songs of praise go together, and we're really thankful this afternoon for the beautiful music of the Washington Bach Consort, led by J. Reilly Lewis. Thank you all for being here. (Applause.) And we are thankful for the voice of Beth Cram Porter. I mean, what a voice. (Laughter and applause.) Thank you. We are as grateful, as well, to all the organizers of the National Day of Prayer, and especially for the gracious leadership of Shirley Dobson. We're also glad you brought Jim with you. (Laughter and applause.)
Colonel Oliver North is the 2004 National Day of Prayer Honorary Chairman. Thank you for taking on the job. I appreciate it. (Applause.) I appreciate Dr. Barry Black, the Chaplain of the United States Senate. I asked him if he had any one liners before I came up here. (Laughter.) I appreciate Father Daniel Coughlin, who will join us shortly. And, Rabbi, thank you for coming. Rabbi Weinreb, I'm honored that you're here. I appreciate your reading. I also want to welcome Vonette Bright, the former National Day of Prayer Task Force Chairman. Vonette, we're honored you're with us. Thank you for coming.
At so many crucial points in the life of America, we have been a nation at prayer. Abraham Lincoln, from this house, called the nation to prayer in the darkest days of the Civil War. Franklin Roosevelt, 60 years ago on D-Day, led the nation in prayer over the radio, asking for God to watch over our sons in battle.
A prayerful spirit has always been a central part of our national tradition, and it remains a vital part of our national character. Americans of every faith and every tradition turn daily to God in reverence and humility. We bring our cares to Him knowing He is our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. It was Lincoln who called Americans "the almost chosen people." (Laughter.) At that word, "almost" makes quite a difference. (Laughter.)
Americans do not presume to equate God's purposes with any purpose of our own. God's will is greater than any man, or any nation built by men. He works His will. He finds His children within every culture and every tribe. And while every human enterprise must end, His kingdom will have no end. Our part, our calling is to align our hearts and action with God's plan, in so far as we can know it. A humble heart is not an indifferent heart. We cannot be neutral in the face of injustice or cruelty or evil. God is not on the side of any nation, yet we know He is on the side of justice. And it is the deepest strength of America that from the hour of our founding, we have chosen justice as our goal.
Our greatest failures as a nation have come when we lost sight of that goal: in slavery, in segregation, and in every wrong that has denied the value and dignity of life. Our finest moments have come when we have faithfully served the cause of justice for our own citizens, and for the people of other lands. And through our nation's history, we have turned to prayer for wisdom to know the good, and for the courage to do the good.
Many people in every age have made the same request of the wise and the holy: teach us to pray. One of the answers begins with "Our Father who art in Heaven." That answer has guided people through two millennia. In that example, we learn to give praise where it is due. We recognize that all that we have and all that we are come as gifts, and it is natural to be grateful to the Giver.
Americans, on this National Day of Prayer, are thankful. We're thankful for our freedom, for so many blessings, large and small, and we're thankful for this wonderful land we call home.
In prayer, we offer petitions, because the Maker of the Universe knows our cares and our needs. For our nation today, the need is great, as young men and women face danger in our defense, for the sake of freedom, and for the sake of peace. We pray that God's hand will protect them and deliver them safely home. We pray for the loved ones who anxiously await their return. And we pray for the families that have known great loss, that they might receive God's peace in the midst of their sadness.
Prayer also teaches us to trust, to accept that God's plan unfolds in His time, not our own; that trust is not always easy, as we discover in our own lives, but trust is the source of ultimate confidence. We affirm that all of life, and all of history, rests entirely on the character of our creation and our Creator. And His love and His mercy extend to all and endure forever.
May God bless you all. (Applause.)