WASHINGTON – President Bush on Thursday urged Americans of all faiths to turn to prayer as they struggle through "this time of testing" after the terrorist attacks.
Bush said religious faith teaches tolerance, humility and the value of community service -- all of which are needed to recover from Sept. 11 and vanquish terrorism.
"Every religion is welcomed in our country. All are practiced here. Many of our citizen profess no religion at all. Our country has never had an official faith. Yet we have all been witnesses, these past 21 weeks, to the power of faith to see us through the hurt and loss that has come on to the country," Bush said at the National Prayer Breakfast.
The breakfast is a 50-year tradition that brings lawmakers, foreign heads of state and spiritual leaders together in prayer. This year's event was filled with tributes to the heroes of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ten representatives of the New York Fire Department were invited to the event, and Lisa Beamer addressed the group. She is the widow of Todd Beamer, 32, of Cranbury, N.J. He and a group of passengers on United Flight 93 apparently attacked the suicide hijackers in order to prevent their captors from crashing the plane into a building in Washington.
It went down instead in a field in western Pennsylvania, becoming the only one of four hijacked planes that did not take lives on the ground.
"The men and woman who charged into burning buildings to save others, those who fought the hijackers, were not confused about the difference between right and wrong," the president said. "They knew the difference. They knew their duty, and we know their sacrifice was not in vain."
Bush said millions of Americans, including himself, were put on "bended knee" in prayer after the attacks. More prayers will be needed, he said.
"There will be hardships ahead. And faith will not make our path easy, but it will gives us strength for the journey," Bush said.
Bush spoke of the "good that has come from the evil of Sept. 11," pointing to the surge in community spirit.
"Faith shows us the way to self-giving, to love our neighbors as we would want to be loved ourselves," said Bush, who has asked Congress to expand taxpayer-funded community service programs.
"It is always and everywhere wrong to target and kill the innocent," Bush said. "It is always and everywhere wrong to be cruel and hateful, to enslave and oppress. It is always and everywhere right to be kind and just, to protect the lives of others, and to lay down your life for a friend."
Urging Americans to be tolerant of each others' views, Bush said: "Respect for dignity of others can be found outside religion, just as intolerance is sometimes found within it."
Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, offered the closing prayer at the breakfast.
"In this time of testing for our nation, my family and I have been blessed by prayer from countless Americans," Bush said. "We have felt their sustaining power."
Later in the day, Bush was embracing compromise legislation to help religious charities, although supporters have yet to resolve how they will pay for the scaled-back initiative.The compromise would give new tax breaks to individuals and corporations, while abandoning the contentious effort to open new government programs to religious groups.
Bush also was meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to underscore America's support for Israel amid a dramatic increase in Middle East violence.
The president, who is keeping a busy travel schedule this week, was in New York on Wednesday night to assure state residents that they can expect the full $20 billion he pledged to help the city recover from the attacks.
White House budget director Mitch Daniels said earlier this week that money for individual victims would be counted against the $20 billion package, but Bush said his aide misspoke.