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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast

1990-02-01

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all. Thank you very, very much. Vice President and Mrs. Quayle, and Chuck Grassley, Sam Nunn, and my dear friend Billy Graham, and Ruth. Jim Baker, that was a very inspiring testament of faith. I also want to salute our very special guests who have traveled far to join us in a prayer for peace and understanding: President Moi of Kenya; President Ershad of Bangladesh; Major Buyoya, the marvelous head of Burundi; President Cristiani, a longtime friend; the Prime Minister Kisekka. And I just express for all of us a very hearty welcome, and to President Ershad, a happy birthday greeting to go with Bev Shea's. We're delighted you're here.

And I want to thank Bev Shea and Billy. It'll probably read: prayer breakfast, Bev Shea; supporting cast: secretary of state Billy Graham. [Laughter] A lot of Presidents out here, Senators and Congressmen. He was magnificent. [Laughter] Magnificent music.

It's often said in my line of work that a candidate or a proposal hasn't got a prayer. Well, I'm pleased to be with an audience about whom that will never be said. [Laughter] And this breakfast is the result of years of quiet diplomacy -- I wouldn't say secret diplomacy -- quiet diplomacy by an ambassador of faith, Doug Coe. And I salute him.

And I was moved once again by what Sam and Liz told us of Members and staffers on the Hill who like to regularly meet to share a few quiet moments of prayer and Bible reading. The values that spring from our faith certainly tell us a lot about our country. And consider that for more than two centuries Americans have endorsed, and properly so, the separation of church and state. But we've also shown how both religion and government can strengthen a society. After all, our Founding Fathers' documents begin with these words: All men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. And Americans are religious people, but a truly religious nation is a tolerant nation. We cherish dissent, we cherish the fact that we have many, many faiths, and we protect even the right to disbelieve.

A truly religious nation is also a giving nation. A close friend of mine sent me a poem recently which eloquently embodies this spirit of giving. ``I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother and found all three.''

Thousands of Americans are finding their soul, finding their God, by reaching out to their brothers and sisters in need. You've heard me talk about a Thousand Points of Light across the country. Americans are working through their places of worship, through community programs, or on their own to help the hungry or the homeless, to teach the unskilled, to bring the words of men and the Word of God to those who cannot even read.

And so, I believe that this democracy of ours is once again proving, as it has throughout our history, that when people are free they use that freedom to serve the greater good and, indeed, a higher truth. As freedom blossoms in Eastern Europe -- and Jim was talking eloquently about that -- I am convinced that the 1990's will be the decade of the rebirth that he so beautifully spoke about, a rebirth of faith and hope.

And one example: I met this week Father Calciu, a Romanian Orthodox minister. Father Calciu had spent 21 of his 64 years in jail -- a third of his entire life in prison. And in fact, it was while in prison for opposing the Government that he found God. And once released, he risked his freedom by preaching a series of Lenten sermons. And for that, he was imprisoned again and tortured beyond belief. And yet Father Calciu had faith, and he refused to break. He was sentenced to death. And as he stood in the corner of the prison yard, praying for his wife and son, awaiting death, it was then that something remarkable occurred. His two executioners called to him. And surely, he thought, well, this was the end. But instead they said, ``Father,'' -- and that was the first time they had called him that -- ``we have decided not to kill you.'' And 3 weeks later, he received permission to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. And when he did, he saw these same two guys -- the same two guards -- approach, and to his astonishment, his would-be executioners got on their knees and joined him in prayer. This is one man's story, a humble priest.

And today the times are on the side of peace because more and more brave men and women are on the side of God. And so, that is the end of these few words. That is my prayer: that we will continue to recognize the power of faith. Thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:25 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Senators Charles E. Grassley and Sam Nunn; Representative Elizabeth J. Patterson; Secretary of State James A. Baker III; evangelist Rev. Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth; President Alfredo Cristiani Buckard of El Salvador; Prime Minister Samson Kisekka of Uganda; religious singer George Beverly Shea; and Doug Coe, a participant in the prayer breakfast.

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