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Americans Mark National Prayer Day

Wednesday, 02 May 2001 12:00 AM

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers and others will be summoned to morning prayer by a Shofar, a ram's horn, blown by a rabbi in the caucus room of the Cannon House Office Building.

Elsewhere in the nation, church bells will ring to draw the faithful, while others meet in parks and stadiums, and select Internet, radio and cable television channels turn to special programming leading up to 12:30 p.m. EDT, when in Washington a special prayer written by the Rev. Billy Graham is read aloud.

"Our Father and our God, we praise you for your goodness to our nation, giving us blessings far beyond what we deserve," it says. "Yet we know all is not right with America. We deeply need a moral and spiritual renewal to help us meet the many problems we face."

Later, it says: "We pray today for our nation's leaders. Give them the wisdom to know what is right, and the courage to do it."

The national day of prayer is a tradition dating back to 1952, when Congress passed a joint resolution for a National Prayer Day and President Harry Truman agreed. Every year since, the occupant of the White House has signed a proclamation for prayer day. No specific date was originally set, but President Ronald Reagan in 1988 amended the law to designate the first Thursday of May as the National Day of Prayer.

Prior to Truman, the Continental Congress had called on the people of America to pray for divine wisdom in forming a nation, and President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 had called for a day of "humiliation, fasting and prayer."

"Last year, we had about 2 million people participating," Mark Fried, Media coordinator for the Colorado-based, nonprofit National Day of Prayer Task Force, told United Press International. "This year it's hard to judge, but we expect the number to increase since this is the 50th anniversary, and President Bush speaking about his faith may also be a help."

Fried, who said 40,000 people have volunteered for months to bring the event together, said it was believed that more than 20,000 observances - in places of worship, on courthouse steps, city halls and other public places - were held last year in all 50 states, where governors signed official documents recognizing the day.

As well-received as it has been, there are naysayers.

"Our people feel it is completely illegal and unconstitutional for elected officials, in official capacity, to participate or endorse this sectarian event," Ron Barrier, spokesman for American Atheists, said Wednesday.

"We have no problem if groups want to get together to celebrate religious holidays as they see fit. The problem comes when government officials get involved in an official capacity" and government money is used.

Participating in the Capitol Hill program by the NDP Task Force is Rabbi Bruce Lustig, of the 150-year-old Washington Hebrew Congregation, who will blow the traditional ram's horn and read from the Scriptures.

Lustig said prayer day helped "inspire all Americans to be involved in prayer" and to reinforce Judeo-Christian values.

The chaplains of the Senate and House will also give prayers, blessings and remarks.

A special speaker will be Charles Colson, the Nixon aide during Watergate who went to prison, rediscovered religious faith and started and heads the highly successful Prison Fellowship Ministries.

Each branch of government, a representative of which will be in attendance, will be prayed for, as will the armed forces.

Contemporary religious singers will also provide entertainment.

In the afternoon in Washington, there will be prayer and entertainment events on Capitol grounds, each geared toward a specific segment of the country. The morning events deals with government, the early afternoon with the people, and the later afternoon with youth and the family, because National Prayer Day is for the people as well as the government.

Speakers and participants at the afternoon events in Washington include actor Dean Jones, Miss America 2001 Angela Perez Baraquio, plus a number of singers and songwriters.

Sandwiched between the two is a special reception put on by President Bush at the White House.

"Turning to prayer in times of joy and celebration, strife and tragedy is an integral part of our national heritage," Bush says in his proclamation.

"President Lincoln, who proclaimed a day of 'humiliation, fasting and prayer' in 1863, once stated: 'I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.'"

"Today," Bush says, "millions of Americans continue to hold dear that conviction President Lincoln so eloquently expressed. Gathering in churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and homes, we ask for strength, direction and compassion for our neighbors and ourselves."

The 2001 theme is "One Nation Under God," based on Psalm 33:12, which says "Blessed is the nation whose God is Lord."

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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On Capitol Hill, lawmakers and others will be summoned to morning prayer by a Shofar, a ram's horn, blown by a rabbi in the caucus room of the Cannon House Office Building. Elsewhere in the nation, church bells will ring to draw the faithful, while others meet in parks and...
Wednesday, 02 May 2001 12:00 AM
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