John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the 11th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast

February 07, 1963

Senator Carlson, Mr. Vice President, Reverend Billy Graham, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, gentlemen:

I am honored to be with you here again this morning. These breakfasts are dedicated to prayer and all of us believe in and need prayer. Of all the thousands of letters that are received in the office of the President of the United States, letters of good will and wishes, none, I am sure, have moved any of the incumbents half so much as those that write that those of us who work here in behalf of the country are remembered in their prayers.

You and I are charged with obligations to serve the Great Republic in years of great crisis. The problems we face are complex; the pressures are immense, and both the perils and the opportunities are greater than any nation ever faced. In such a time, the limits of mere human endeavor become more apparent than ever. We cannot depend solely on our material wealth, on our military might, or on our intellectual skill or physical courage to see us safely through the seas that we must sail in the months and years to come.

Along with all of these we need faith. We need the faith with which our first settlers crossed the sea to carve out a state in the wilderness, a mission they said in the Pilgrims' Compact, the Mayflower Compact, undertaken for the glory of God. We need the faith with which our Founding Fathers proudly proclaimed the independence of this country to what seemed at that time an almost hopeless struggle, pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence. We need the faith which has sustained and guided this Nation for 175 long and short years. We are all builders of the future, and whether we build as public servants or private citizens, whether we build at the national or the local level, whether we build in foreign or domestic affairs, we know the truth of the ancient Psalm, "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it."

This morning we pray together; this evening apart. But each morning and each evening, let us remember the advice of my fellow Bostonian, the Reverend Phillips Brooks: "Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks."

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


I'm glad to be with you again this morning with the Vice President, Reverend Billy Graham, Dr. Vereide, Senator Carlson, the same quartet that was here last year and the year before.

I think these breakfasts serve a most useful cause in uniting us all on an occasion when we look not to ourselves but to above for assistance. On our way from the last meeting to this, we met two members of Parliament who carried with them a message from Lord Home to this breakfast, in which Lord Home quoted the Bible and said that perhaps the wisest thing that was said in the Bible was the words, "Peace, be still."

I think it's appropriate that we should on occasion be still and consider where we are, where we've been, what we believe in, what we are trying to work for, what we want for our country, what we want our country to be, what our individual responsibilities are, and what our national responsibilities are. This country has carried great responsibilities, particularly in the years since the end of the Second War, and I think that willingness to assume those responsibilities has come in part from the strong religious conviction which must carry with it a sense of responsibility to others if it is genuine, which has marked our country from its earliest beginnings, when the recognition of our obligation to God was stated in nearly every public document, down to the present day.

This is not an occasion for feeling pleased with ourselves, but, rather, it is an occasion for asking for help to continue our work and to do more. This is a country which has this feeling strongly. I mentioned in the other room the letters which I receive, which the Members of Congress receive, which the Governors receive, which carry with them by the hundreds the strong commitment to the good life and also the strong feeling of communication which so many of our citizens have with God, and the feeling that we are under His protection. This is, I think, a source of strength to us all.

I want to commend all that you do, not merely for gathering together this morning, but for all the work and works that make up part of your Christian commitment. I am very proud to be with you.

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; Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson; the Rev. William F. Graham, evangelist; John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives; and Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States. Later, in his remarks to the ladies, he referred to Dr. Abraham Vereide, Secretary General of the International Council for Christian Leaders.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the 11th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives