In Texas, Rick Santorum talks faith and family
Pastors from around the Dallas-Fort Worth area encircled Santorum, a devout Catholic who shared stories of losing a child and raising another child with disabilities.
Those closest put their hands on his shoulders and back, others sent their prayers from farther away in the room.
"We pray you direct Rick's steps as he runs for president," one pastor prayed from the front of the scenic Bella Donna Chapel in McKinney, Texas. "As Rick travels Texas and the country ... we pray blessings on him ... and goodness."
Santorum _ who gained momentum in his quest to capture the Republican Party's presidential nomination Tuesday night by winning primaries in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado _ made Texas his latest campaign stop Wednesday, talking to pastors in McKinney, ``tea party'' members in Allen and finally holding a rally in nearby Plano.
After talking to the pastors, Santorum told the media that he didn't speak about his campaign because the church appearance was about "the role of faith in my life."
When questioned about his presidential campaign, and whether fellow GOP challenger Mitt Romney still has financing and organization on his side, Santorum said Romney "had the organization and the money (Tuesday) too, and it didn't work out so well for him, did it?"
Santorum said Republicans need a candidate who can resonate with them _ and present a strong alternative to Democratic President Barack Obama in the fall.
"People are responding to the strong message that (I'm) the best person to challenge Barack Obama," he said. "I represent the clearest contrast in this race.
"We need someone to overwhelm them because they have the right message ... and can lead this country with a real vision," Santorum said. "We need someone who is going to transform Washington."
Robert Hale, a retired basketball coach from the Crowley school district, was among more than a hundred people who braved chilly temperatures, standing under a white tent set up outside the church to watch Santorum's speech on TV.
As Santorum left the church, Hale was among those who were able to shake the candidate's hand.
"He's so real, he seems to have the best interest of our country at heart," said Hale, 65, of Weatherford. "This is what we've got to do. We've got to make a change."
Santorum wasn't shy about his faith Wednesday morning, telling a church full of pastors about his personal faith journey _ and how it is affecting his presidential campaign.
After arriving late, and apologizing to those waiting for him for the delay, Santorum talked about how he's both a man of faith – and of reason.
"I'm willing to be very public about the role of faith in our society," he said. "It's not because I want to be the pastor of the United States.
"That doesn't mean I won't stand and fight ... for the moral foundation."
Santorum, who at one time was named one of the most 25 most influential evangelists in America by Time magazine, last month received the backing from a group of about 150 social conservative leaders in Texas even though Texas Gov. Rick Perry was still in the race at the time.
Many social conservatives have said they believe Romney is a moderate and they have questioned his commitment to opposing abortion and gay marriage.
Santorum, known to some as the socially conservative candidate, has staunchly opposed adoption by same-sex couples and same-sex marriage as well as being opposed to abortion in almost cases.
Santorum talked openly about his anti-abortion stance.
"Abortion is wrong," he said. "I know life begins at conception. ... That child is alive.
"There's no difference between that child in the womb and any one of us," he said, "but time."
Santorum said his belief in God grew after he and his wife, Karen, were married when he was 32.
"Faith began to be part of our lives as we built our marriage," he said. "The institution of marriage saved my life."
Santorum spoke of his successful bids for Congress and the U.S. Senate and how at times he "was the reformer" on the "fast track, going as fast as I could to be successful."
Then all of a sudden, he said, "I was reflecting _ why was I here?"
That's when someone suggested he start attending Bible study groups. The faith he fostered there, he said, helped him through personal struggles.
Santorum spoke of his family – his wife and the eight children they together had.
One son, Gabriel, died shortly after being born prematurely in 1996. "He was born alive, way too small to survive," he said. "We had a couple of hours with him."
But he described Gabriel's time on earth as "a life only to know love and then be with Our Father."
Santorum also spoke about his daughter Isabella, or Bella, who was born in 2008 with a serious genetic disorder. "We found out something was wrong when she was four days old," he said.
After bringing Bella home on hospice care, Santorum said his family began celebrating her birthday every week, hoping for as many weeks with her as they had years with their other children.
"I was always told she wouldn't be here long," he said, and talked of trying to somewhat detach from her so he could be strong for his family when and if something happened to Bella. "I had to be the rock," he said.
Then when she was about five months old, Bella went into respiratory failure.
"I was holding her as she was failing," he said. "I felt helpless. I told her to keep breathing."
Then he said his wife rushed in, gathered Bella and was able to "bring her back" so they could get her to the hospital for medical attention.
When one of his daughters later asked why he wasn't the one to save Bella, he said he told her that "Daddy's a politician _ I talked to her," he said. "Mommy's a nurse _ she saved her."
Santorum said that "Bella can't do much in the eyes of the world, but she can love."
"These children have a lot to teach us, yet we live in a world that wants to put them in the shadows."
Organizers of the McKinney event presented Santorum with a painting of his daughter _ with angel wings _ that will be displayed in the church.
Ted Leigh,a member and pastor of Glory of Zion in Corinth, said Santorum's stories had him in tears several times.
"We talk about doing and being things, but he is," said Leigh, who was among the members of the clergy in the church. "You can tell that he speaks directly from the heart.
"I would absolutely vote for him."
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