WASHINGTON – At the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 1, President George W. Bush cited a Pennsylvania Catholic teenager who started an outreach to poor and homeless people in memory of her favorite priest, the late Franciscan Father Mychal Judge.
In remarks President Bush said that prayer “makes us a more compassionate and giving people” willing to listen to God’s call “to love our neighbors as we would like to be loved.”
“We answer that call by reaching out to feed the hungry and clothe the poor and aid the widow and the orphan,” he said, and by helping people in need “we find our own faith strengthened and we receive the grace to lead lives of dignity and purpose.”
That grace, he said, can be seen in the life of Shannon Hickey, a 16-year-old junior at Lancaster (Pa.) Catholic High School who founded a nonprofit organization called Mychal’s Message in 2002.
She named it in honor of a longtime family friend, Father Judge, the New York fire chaplain who died ministering to victims in the rubble of the World Trade Center’s twin towers Sept. 11, 2001.
President Bush said that Father Judge helped Hickey and her family through her struggles with liver disease. She was born with a defective liver, and at seven months, on Jan. 29, 1991, received part of her mother’s liver. Father Judge had been a family friend for 40 years.
“Over the last five years, Mychal’s Message has collected and distributed more than 100,000 needed items to the poor and the homeless,” President Bush said. “With each gift to the needy, Shannon encloses a card with Father Mychal’s personal prayer.
“It reads: ‘Lord, take me where you want me to go, let me meet who you want me to meet, tell me what you want me to say, and keep me out of your way,’” he added.
President Bush said that Father Judge’s “humble prayer reminds us of an eternal truth: In the quiet of prayer, we leave behind our own cares and we take up the cares of the Almighty. And in answering his call to service we find that, in the words of Isaiah, ‘We will gain new strength. We will run and not get tired. We will walk and not become weary.’”
Hickey also was among the 24 guests sharing first lady Laura President Bush’s box during the State of the Union address Jan. 23.
“We are a nation of prayer,” President Bush said at the breakfast.
“Each day millions of our citizens bow their heads in silence and solitude, or they offer up prayers in fellowship with others,” he said. “They pray for themselves; they pray for their families; they pray for their neighbors and their communities.”
Americans pray for their nation and their elected leaders, he said, and millions of citizens also lift up the troops in prayer.
“We pray for their (the troops) safety; we pray for their families they have left at home; we pray for those who have been wounded for their comfort and recovery. We remember those who have been lost, and we pray that their loved ones feel the healing touch of the Almighty,” he said.
“During this time of war, we thank God that we are part of a nation that produces courageous men and women who volunteer to defend us,” he added.
The National Prayer Breakfast, held at the Washington Hilton, draws nearly 4,000 guests from around the world and is privately funded every year by the Fellowship Foundation.
It dates back to the war years of the early 1940s, with the first official event taking place in 1953 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower accepted an invitation by House and Senate prayer groups to join them in praying for the nation and its leaders.
Besides the president and first lady Laura Bush, this year’s breakfast was attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Rep. Roy Blount, R-Mo., Cabinet members, military officials, members of the House and Senate and diplomats, as well as governors and other state officials and local Washington officials.