WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said an Easter prayer breakfast at the White House on Wednesday took on new meaning following a pair of "horrific acts of terrorism" that killed scores of people in the capital of Belgium and in one of Pakistan's largest cities.
Obama said the terrorists want to "weaken our faith" and cause people to retaliate against those who look or pray differently. He counseled against succumbing to those particular temptations.
"If Easter means anything it's that you don't have to be afraid," he told a gathering of religious leaders.
More than 30 people were killed when suicide bombs tore through the airport and a train station in Brussels, Belgium, last week. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility. Days later, on Easter, a suicide bombing by a breakaway Taliban faction killed more than 70 children and adults in a Pakistani park.
"These attacks can foment fear and division. They can tempt us to cast out the stranger. Strike out against those who don't look like us, or don't pray exactly like we do. And they can lead us to turn our backs on those who are most in need of help and refuge," Obama said.
"That's the intent of the terrorists, is to weaken our faith. To weaken our best impulses, our better angels," he said.
Obama said his faith has changed him and taught him there's always the possibility of redemption.
He said his final Easter prayer breakfast as president was bittersweet, and he thanked the clergy members for working with him over the years. He promised that their partnerships will continue after he leaves office in January.
"After a good chunk of sleep when I get out of here, I'm going to be right out there with you," he said. "So you're not rid of me yet."