President Bush says America is facing several challenges as it considers possible military action against Iraq. Mr. Bush spoke at Washington's annual Congressional prayer breakfast.

President Bush says he is praying for strength and guidance as the country passes through what he calls a "decisive period" of challenges at home and abroad. "This is a testing time for our country," the president said. "At this hour, we have troops that are assembling in the Middle East. There are oppressive regimes that seek terrible weapons. We face an ongoing threat of terror. One thing is for certain: we did not ask for these challenges. But we will meet them."

Mr. Bush says the country mourns the loss of "seven brave souls," killed when the space shuttle Columbia broke up shortly before landing Saturday. He asked those at the annual breakfast to continue to pray for the families of the astronauts who died.

Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, President Bush says Americans have not shown fear or rash anger. Instead, he says they have demonstrated courage and resolve in the face of danger.

Mr. Bush says the nation will triumph over adversity because of the character of its people, the will of God, and the desire of people throughout the world to live free from oppression. "We do not own the ideals of freedom and human dignity, and sometimes we have not always lived-up to them," he said. "But we do stand for those ideals and we will defend them."

This year's annual prayer breakfast was attended by more than half of the Congress, as well as military leaders, foreign heads of state and religious leaders. They were joined by members of the president's team, including National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet.