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Texas pastors who listened to GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Rick Santorum talk about the life and liberty goals of his campaign before ending the meeting gathered around him, placed their hands on his shoulders and prayed for God’s direction in his work.

“We thank you for the grace and goodness that motivates Rick Santorum to run for president,” a pastor who led the group prayed. “We thank you for the goodness and grace of pastors in this room who are motivated to seek your kingdom first.”

“Lord, we pray that you would direct Rick’s steps as he campaigns for president.”

After winning the Iowa caucuses, Santorum fell back into the pack of GOP contenders. A few short weeks ago then, a meeting of top conservatives from around the country assembled in Texas and picked Santorum as their choice for the 2012 race against Barack Obama.

His campaign continued its ups and downs until this week, when he stunned GOP observers, sweeping to victory in caucuses in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. The results pushed his campaign forward in a sudden surge of attention, donations and activity.

The meeting with pastors was in McKinney, Texas, where he joined the ministers gathered in a small chapel.

Pamela Kripke at the New York Times reported Santorum asked the pastors to seek continued prayer from their congregations.

“Your prayers are the reason I am here,” he said.

Anna Tinsley of McClatchy Newspapers wrote that Santorum talked about his faith and his family, then let the pastors gather around him, put their hands on his shoulders, and pray for him.

Santorum, named at one point by Time Magazine as among the nation’s 25 most influential evangelicals, is portraying himself as the conservative in the race for the White House.

He has opposed same-sex “marriage” and abortion, and his supporters cast likely GOP front-runner Mitt Romney as just like Barack Obama on such moral questions.

The event:

Santorum told the pastors his faith in God developed after he and his wife, Karen, were married.

“Faith began to be part of our lives as we built our marriage,” he told the pastors. “The institution of marriage saved my life.”

It grew later after his successful runs for the U.S. House and Senate, when he started reflecting on his goals and purposes.

He said someone told him he needed to go to a Bible study, and he did.

He told the listening pastors of his own family trials, the loss of a young son and a daughter with a delicate medical condition.

Kate Shellnut at the Chronicle noted it was a month ago when the Protestant leaders convened in Texas to pick Santorum.

“A lot of onlookers had been thinking it may be too late for Santorum to stand a chance, but his recent momentum means Santorum may be getting somewhere with Christian voters,” she wrote.

“Religion News Service blogger Mark Silk wrote Wednesday, ‘I’m beginning to think that while those evangelical leaders who met in Texas may have been a day late and a dollar short for Santorum in South Carolina and Florida, their networks are now beginning to kick in. This is getting interesting,’” she wrote.

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