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Bush holds hourlong prayer meeting with America’s religious leaders

SHARE Bush holds hourlong prayer meeting with America’s religious leaders

WASHINGTON — Before President Bush addressed the nation Thursday, he held an hourlong, private prayer meeting with 27 of the nation's religious leaders, including President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Hinckley conscientiously avoided the limelight in his trip to Washington, D.C., which was so quick and quiet that even officials at the church's International and Government Affairs Office in Washington say they weren't told that he was in town until moments before the meeting.

A sign that the even the church's public affairs arms didn't know much about the trip is that the White House issued a list of attendees that mistakenly referred to President Hinckley as the church's lead bishop, rather than as president of the church.

President Hinckley didn't speak to reporters after the meeting and immediately flew back to Salt Lake City aboard the same private jet, owned by the Huntsman Corp., that had brought him earlier.

President Hinckley was accompanied to the White House by the church's Washington lobbyist, Marcus Faust (son of President James E. Faust, First Counselor in the First Presidency), and by Donald H. Staheli, President Hinckley's executive secretary.

Each of the leaders at the meeting — representing churches ranging from Buddhist to Muslim, Sikh, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Latter-day Saint and Lutheran — were allowed to speak a few words.

President Hinckley also signed a joint statement issued by the group.

"We have both a moral right and a grave obligation as a nation to protect the sanctity of life and the common good," said the statement, which was read afterward to reporters by Roman Catholic Cardinal John Law .

"We should respond not in the spirit of aggression, but as victims of aggression, who must act to prevent further atrocities of terrorism," the statement said.

They met hours before Bush was to speak to a joint session of Congress to outline his plans to root out terrorism.

After the meeting, the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, told reporters, "We need to pray for the president. We need to pray for our nation."

Leaders said they prayed twice with Bush, once in a small group in the Oval Office and then in the Roosevelt Room, when he met with a larger group of clerics.

"We asked the president, and we asked the Lord to grant us peace and justice . . . to guide the president," said Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan of New York.

Dr. Rajwant Singh, president of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, welcomed Bush's calls for religious tolerance in the face of retribution attacks on Muslims and Sikhs in the United States.

"We need to come together, even though my community has been attacked because of turbans and beards . . . the sense of assurance we have gotten

from President Bush is amazing . . . the president has a heart for each and every one of us," he said.

"This was not just a meeting. It was a religious ceremony in front of God," Singh said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the meeting aimed to "underscore the importance of tolerance as well as to recognize the role of faith in

a time of crisis.

"Attendance is up dramatically at churches and synagogues and mosques and places of worship. . . . And it's such a strength of this country that we

have people from all types of religions who join in one belief, and, that is, the belief in America," Fleischer said.

Contributing: Reuters