(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
President Obama issued his annual proclamation declaring the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer, a long-standing 62-year tradition that began with Democratic President Harry Truman.
This year's theme for the National Day of Prayer is a call for believers to "pray for America," and it echoes the words of Martha Washington, by honoring today as a day to "remember that God is our only sure trust." The scripture selected this year is Matthew 12:21, which reads: "In His name the nations will put their hope."
In his proclamation, the president asks all Americans of faith to pray for healing for the nation following the aftermath of the violent shootings in Newtown, Conn., the Boston Marathon bombings, and the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, Texas. He also requests prayers for the first responders who put themselves in harm's way to protect their fellow Americans, and for the safety of the members of the U.S. Armed Forces and the families.
Observing the power of prayer in times of prosperity and during moments of hardship and struggle, Obama noted that throughout the nation's history, Americans have turned to prayer to unite and sustain the country. "…Americans have prayed as a means of uniting, guiding, and healing. In times of hardship and tragedy, and in periods of peace and prosperity, prayer has provided reassurance, sustenance, and affirmation of common purpose," Obama said.
Obama said communities can come together through prayer to support and strengthen each other. "In the aftermath of senseless acts of violence, the prayers of countless Americans signal to grieving families and a suffering community that they are not alone."
"Their pain is a shared pain, and their hope a shared hope. Regardless of religion or creed, Americans reflect on the sacredness of life and express their sympathy for the wounded, offering comfort and holding up a light in an hour of darkness," he added.
"All of us have the freedom to pray and exercise our faiths openly. Our laws protect these God-given liberties, and rightly so. … Let us give thanks for the freedom to practice our faith as we see fit, whether individually or in fellowship," Obama said.
This year's 62nd National Day of Prayer honorary chairman is prominent California minister Greg Laurie, the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., and the speaker for the Harvest Crusades. The group's chairperson is Shirley Dobson, the wife of Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson.
On Wednesday Laurie provided Americans with a word of encouragement, and asked believers to "pray for the United States of America."
"What do we pray for?" Laurie asked. "Well first of all, let's pray that our country turns back to God. America needs a spiritual awakening; let's pray that a revival will come to our shores again. With all that's happening in our country, the attack of the two young terrorists in Boston effectively bringing one of the great American cities to a standstill, we realize how much we need God's help. Let's turn to the Lord and ask him to bless out nation as we turn from our sins."
Laurie's speech and prayer will be broadcast live on the internet from the National Observance of the National Day of Prayer that will be held in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill from 9 a.m. to noon, Eastern Time.
The National Day of Prayer was officially created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress, and signed into law by President Harry Truman. Since 1952, every president has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.