President Bush and members of his war council prayed yesterday for God's guidance through "a testing time for our country," citing the potential showdown with Iraq, the constant threat of terrorism and the space shuttle disaster.

"One thing is for certain, we didn't ask for these challenges, but we will meet them. I say that with certainty because this nation has strong foundations that won't be shaken," Bush said at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

The event is a 51-year-old tradition that brings hundreds of lawmakers, military leaders, foreign heads of state and spiritual leaders together. The crowd included 56 senators, 240 House members, first lady Laura W. Bush, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers and CIA Director George J. Tenet.

Each member of the war council said a prayer. They talked about feelings of uncertainty and anxiety in the United States just five days after the space shuttle Columbia tragedy and one day after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell laid out the U.S. case against Saddam Hussein to the U.N. Security Council. Administration officials say war is likely, though not yet certain.

"God teaches us to be resolute in the face of evil, using all of the weapons and armor that the word of God supplies," said Tenet, fresh from his U.N. trip with Powell.

Rice, following Bush to the lectern, mixed humorous anecdotes about her religious upbringing with a sobering message similar to Bush's.

"Terror and tragedy have made us more aware of our vulnerabilities and mortality," she said. "We're living through a time of testing and consequence and pray that our wisdom and will are equal to the work before us."

At last year's event, held six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush urged Americans to turn to prayer in "this time of testing."

He returned to that theme this year, saying Americans are in mourning for the seven astronauts who died aboard Columbia on Saturday. "This is a testing time for our country," Bush said. "At this hour, we have troops that are assembling in the Middle East. There's oppressive regimes that seek terrible weapons. We face an ongoing threat of terror."