By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama offered his thoughts and prayers Tuesday to victims of weekend storms that spawned dozens of tornadoes that cut a swath through the South, killing more than 40 people.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families that have been affected down there," the president said during an Easter prayer breakfast at the White House.
The twisters hit 12 states in the South, cutting a path of destruction from Oklahoma to Maryland between Thursday and Saturday. At least 45 people were killed, including 22 from hard-hit North Carolina.
Politics were not on the menu during the prayer breakfast. It was the second year the president has held such an Easter prayer event.
The president used the breakfast to call for prayer and reflection to mark the start of the Easter season. He was joined by about 130 clergy and faith leaders from a wide range of backgrounds including Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox clergy.
He said Easter served as a reminder that during "these national critical debates" that "we must always make sure we are keeping things in perspective."
"I pray that our time here this morning will strengthen us both individually as believers and as Americans," the president said.
Among the clergy in attendance were Bishop T.D. Jakes, pastor of the Potter's House in Dallas, Texas; Joel Hunter pastor of Northland Church outside of Orlando, Florida; and Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.
For Keller, a prominent Presbyterian pastor and author, it was his first trip to the Obama White House, his office said.
"It's a time of great togetherness where we can focus on the one person we have in common," Hunter told CNN before the breakfast. "That's Jesus Christ, not the president," he clarified with a chuckle.
Hunter said he always enjoys getting together with other Christian leaders and wanted to be supportive of the president's event.
Hunter said he is still sending a weekly devotion via email to the president through Joshua DuBois, the head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
"We're going through the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke." Hunter said. "I call it reading the red," he said referring to the red text which some biblical translations mark the words of Jesus.
Hunter said politics were not a topic he and the president have discussed often during their time together.
"My role with him is as a pastor," he said. While some policy issues arise like care for the poor, he said, "we don't discuss politics or policy per se. My role is to help him get closer to God."
The Easter prayer event was held Tuesday so pastors can return to their home parishes and churches to conduct their own Holy Week celebrations.
The president has struggled to convince some segments of the American public he is a Christian. He has repeatedly affirmed his faith and speaks of it often in public.
A survey by the Pew Forum found nearly one in five Americans believe the president is a Muslim while just 34% correctly identified him as a Christian.
My Prayers to all those suffer the natural disasters in America and the world.... whether heavenly or manmade ones....
After all agree that such natural disaster is not a divine punishment to those effected humans but might think that what is happening is a return result of our countries policies towards other nations?! Say bombing one country returns back to it in a form a natural disasters,to do them as did others?
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Wow, the lies people will tell to get attention. Your ignorance is sad to see. People will believe anything.
Thank God we have this rather than police trying to arrest people who are trying to worship. God Bless the USA.
Who does he pray to? He is a member of the UCC a pro sodomite counterfeit church.
To whom does he pray, if it is not the Lord God Almighty it must be.........
I just read that pro-choice people and pro-gay-marriage people aren't really Christian? Strange, my pastor told me that Christianity is based on faith in Jesus. Well, thanks! Now I know that it's not faith, but how you must interpret the Bible in this one specific way.
He may say he's Christian, but it takes more than just words to BE something. True Christians believe that life and marriage are sacred–he clearly doesn't.
Have some prayers and thoughts to help pay your bills. They might even get your claims paid. Here's some more thoughts and prayers. Feels great doesn't it? Glad to help you. Have some more thoughts and prayers. There you go.
Feel better? Everything fixed? Great to know you are getting my thoughts and prayers. Really great. Thanks loads.
Easter Breakfast? Why prolong the myth? Cancel said breakfast. Stop wasting taxpayers money on such foolishness!!
I'm in my mid-fifties, when I was growing up, everyone knew their neighbors and community. We all went to church and prayed together, and you hardly ever heard of the murder/suicides, crimes against children and the senior citizens, and all the other atrocities that are on the news everyday. You respected people and they in turn respected you. The separation of church and state has gone TOO far. I believe it's a part of the moral decay that has torn our families and communities apart, it's great to hear of prayer breakfasts with our nation's leaders and clergy! God Bless and pray for our families, friends, communities, military, nation, world and for peace on our planet.
Eddie, I remember those days. Americans and Westerners were highly respected, too. It's unimaginable today. Things were not perfect, of course, but people were not this sick perverse. God does not bless sinful nations. I think Americans must brace for oncoming sudden tragedies if they will continue present moral decadence. The patterns are all in the history and also recorded in the Bible. Prosperity without godliness is a woe.
Adelina you really have it out for America but what is hilarious is all the lies you are spreading. Your own sinful nature is very telling about who you truly are, repent now!
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.