WASHINGTON -- President George Bush ended his five-day inaugural Sunday with services at Washington's National Cathedral, where a sermon asked the new government to give 'hope for the destitute in our American Calcuttas.'
In a national day of prayer and thanksgiving, the country's religious institutions took note of the change in secular authority with pealing bells at noon and prayers for the new president and vice president.
Unlike his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who rarely entered a church during his presidency, Bush since his Nov. 8 election has attended weekly services at different churches in Washington and in his vacation spots.
Sunday's interfaith proceeding under the vaulted ceiling of the Gothic cathedral -- where President Woodrow Wilson is buried -- was aimed at giving thanks for American democracy and emphasizing the political challenges ahead.
Bush sent a letter to more than 200,000 of the nation's congregations asking them to offer special prayers Sunday for the new administration.
The president and his wife, Barbara, sat in the first pew next to Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife, Marilyn, and the Quayles' three young children sat behind their parents.
The first lady wore a lavender coat, matching dress and white gloves; Mrs. Quayle wore a gray coatdress with black buttons.
When the Bushes entered the cathedral, they knelt briefly, then they and the congregation stood for the procession of clergy that included Rabbi Matthew Simon of Rockville, Md., James Hickey, the Roman Catholic cardinal of Washington, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos and the Rev. Edmond Browning, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
More than 3,000 people, mainly invited guests of the president, packed the cathedral for the service of Bible readings and sermons that focused on 'care for the people of America,' 'care for God's creation' and 'reconciliation for the peoples of the earth.'
Led by the cathedral's men's chorus and and the Howard University Choir, the congregation sang familiar hymns -- 'God of Our Fathers,' 'Faith of Our Fathers,' a verse from 'America the Beautiful' and 'Amazing Grace.
Between readings, three homilists preached on the service's themes. The Rev. Peter Gomes, reflecting on a passage from the Book of James - 'Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead' -- said government is a divine instrument of inspiring hope in people who have none.
'There must be such a hope for the destitute of our American Calcuttas,' Gomes said. 'There must be such a hope for the prisoners of the inner city within sight of this cathedral church and beyond; there must be such a hope for the aged and the destitute; there must be such a hope for persons with AIDS and those who love and care for them ...
'There must be such a hope for those of you who are to govern the land by the framing of just laws and their honorable administration,' he said.
Gov. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., spoke on humanity's responsibility for the environment, saying: 'Many of our environmental missteps of the past can be redeemed. We have an incredibly wonderful opportunity to correct some of our past errors, to clean them up and start over again. With God's help, science will bless us with even greater capacity for redeeming our past sins against the environment.'
Browning, preaching on the charge given in the Sermon on the Mount - which begins, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit ...' -- said, 'Those who practice the moral prescription of the Beatitudes accept the authority of God can pray, as did Jesus, your will be done.
'These people, these moral leaders, are blessed because they can discern what is good and bad, true and false, corrupt and incorruptible. They are blesed because they have internalized the will of God,' he said.