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Prayers And Tears For Columbia

President Bush bowed his head in church Sunday as a minister prayed for the victims of the lost space shuttle Columbia.

"God's heart is more heartbroken than our own, and I believe they're already resting," the Rev. Luis Leon said at St. John's Church near the White House.

Leon said the shuttle astronauts represented the explorer's spirit in every person. "Let us pray for that spirit to be kept alive in us," he said.

The minister said he had heard others saying that the shuttle's breakup was "God's way of getting back at us" for Mr. Bush's Iraq policies. "That's hokum. That's just garbage," Leon said.

Rather, the Columbia's fate, he said, was "the price we paid for exploration."

Leon normally steers clear of current events when the president is in attendance. A guest minister later read all the shuttle crew members' names aloud and asked that churchgoers pray for them.

Mr. Bush kissed his wife, Laura, on the cheek when Leon directed congregation members greet each other. The president walked past reporters after the service without saying anything, and planned to go running at a nearby military installation.

In a televised address Saturday, Mr. Bush praised the Columbia's crew for their "courage and daring and idealism" and pledged to make sure their mission continues.

"Our journey into space will go on," he told a horrified nation about five hours after the space shuttle broke apart over Texas.

From the Cabinet Room of the White House, a few paces from the Oval Office, the president delivered the news no one wanted to hear, "The Columbia's lost. There are no survivors."

And then he quoted Scripture, his eyes glistening.

Read the president's remarks

"The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth but we can pray that all are safely home," Mr. Bush said.

The news came to Mr. Bush in a telephone call from NASA chief Sean O'Keefe. The president rushed back from his weekend retreat in Maryland and went to the Oval Office, where he telephoned a gathering of the astronauts' family members.

"I wish I was there to hug and cry and comfort you right now," Mr. Bush said. The family members were holding hands in a NASA conference room in Florida, where they had expected to welcome their loved ones home from space.

Mr. Bush took calls of condolence from Mexican President Vicente Fox, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin before the address. He talked to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien afterward.

Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, was aboard the shuttle.

Mr. Bush and Putin discussed how the tragedy would affect plans for a shuttle to bring provisions to the space station, currently manned by two Americans and a Russian.

Flanked by two flags, Mr. Bush spoke slowly during his address.

"These men and women assumed great risk in this service to all humanity," Mr. Bush said after reciting the crew members' names.

"The cause in which they died will continue," Mr. Bush said. "Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."

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