John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the 10th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast

March 01, 1962

Senator, Judge, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Justice, Governor, gentlemen:

I want to, as President, express my appreciation to all those whose efforts make this breakfast possible. This is only one of a worldwide effort, I believe, to build a closer and more intimate association among those of different faiths in different countries and in different continents, who are united by a common belief in God, and therefore united in a common commitment to the moral order--and as Governor Daniels said, the relationship of the individual to the state.

The effort made in New Delhi among the World Council of Churches, the efforts that have been made in Europe to build better understanding among men and women of different faiths, the effort made in this country, I believe are most important and most essential.

I do not suggest that religion is an instrument of the cold war. Rather it is the basis of the issue which separates us from those who make themselves our adversary. And at the heart of the matter, of course, is the position of the individual--his importance, his sanctity, his relationship to his fellow men, his relationship to his country and his state. This is in essence the struggle, and it is necessary, therefore, that in these difficult days, when men and women who have strong religious convictions are beleaguered by those who are neither hot nor cold, or by those who are icy cold, it is most important that we make these common efforts--as we do this morning. So I congratulate you all, and express appreciation to you and hope that it will serve as an inspiration to others in other parts of our country.

I believe yesterday we saw an interesting contrast in the response which Colonel Glenn made as to whether he had prayed, and he said that he had not, that he had made his peace with his Maker many years before, and the statement made by Titov in which during his flight, as he flew over the Soviet Union he realized, he said, the wonders of the Communist system.

I preferred Colonel Glenn's answer because I thought it was so solidly based, in his own life, in his activities in his church, and I think reflects a quality which we like to believe and I think we can believe is much a part of our American heritage. So I congratulate you.

In our program this morning there is a quotation from Lincoln which I think is particularly applicable today. He said, "I believe there is a God. I see the storm coming and I believe He has a hand in it. If He has a part and place for me, I believe that I am ready."

We see the storm coming, and we believe He has a hand in it, and if He has a place and a part for us, I believe that we are ready.

[The President spoke first to the gentlemen in the hotel's main ball room and then to the ladies in the state and east rooms.]


Last year I expressed some concern that instead of having been separated at these breakfasts--the pharisees and the publicans and the sinners and the saints--that the separation occurred on the basis of sex and not on those who should have been in the front room and those who were in the back room.

I do want to say, however--express my appreciation to you for the effort that you are making, to tell you how valuable I think it is that in this Capital of this most important country, upon which so much depends, that these breakfasts should be held, and that this demonstration of our commitment should be made.

We bear great responsibilities and great burdens not only to ourselves in this country but to so many around the world whose future hangs in the balance and depends so much on us.

We may not feel that our efforts are always appreciated, and I am not sure that that is so of the Presidents important, but we want to make sure that our efforts are effective, and that this generation-which faces the greatest challenges that any country, any free people, have ever faced, and moves in the midst of the greatest of opportunities and the greatest of dangers-that we shall meet our responsibility, which carries with it an obligation to our country, but I think in a larger sense carries with it an obligation to all those who desire to live a life of freedom and a life which permits them to participate with their neighbors and with God in the way they choose.

So I commend you for the example you set to us all. Upon your conviction and your effort so much depends, and it is a source of satisfaction to be here with Mrs. Johnson, the Vice President's wife, and with the Governor of Texas--and Senator Carlson-Senator Stennis--most importantly, I think, of Reverend Billy Graham, who has served this cause about which I speak so well here and around the world. He has, I think, transmitted this most important quality of our common commitments to faith in a way which makes us all particularly proud.

So we are glad to see you this morning, and we appreciate what you are doing.

Note: The prayer breakfast of International Christian Leadership, Inc., a nondenominational group of laymen, was held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. In his opening words the President referred to frank Carlson, U.S. Senator from Kansas, who served as chairman of the breakfast; Boyd Leedom, a member of the National Labor Relations Board and a former justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court; John W. McCormack, U.S. Representative from Massachusetts and Speaker of the House of Representatives; Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States; and Price Daniel, Governor of Texas.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the 10th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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