WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) — President Donald Trump was among those high-profile Washington leaders who honored the late Rev. Billy Graham on Wednesday, while the influential evangelist lies in honor at the US Capitol Wednesday.
“Billy Graham carried his message around the world, but his heart — as Franklin will tell you — was always in America,” Trump said during a ceremony on Capitol Hill, which also included House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “He took his message to the poorest places, to the downtrodden and to the broken-hearted, to inmates in prison and to the overlooked and neglected. He felt a great passion to those that were neglected,” Trump said. “God loves you — that was his message — God loves you.”
Graham, an evangelical minister and spiritual confidant to American presidents, died at the age of 99 last week.
Trump recalled an early memory of his of Graham, telling mourners gathered in the Capitol that he went to hear Graham preach at Yankee stadium as a child.
“My father said, ‘Come on son.’ And he said, ‘Come on mom,’ let’s go see Billy Graham at Yankee Stadium,” Trump recalled. “Fred Trump was a big fan.”
Trump praised Graham’s impact on the country and the world, noting that hundreds of millions came to see Graham speak across the globe and countless others were moved by his preaching through television and radio.
Ryan said in his remarks, “Here lies America’s pastor.”
“The man had such a gift with connecting with people,” Ryan said in his remarks honoring the late Reverend. “When listening to Reverend Graham, it was like he was right there next to you.”
Graham lying in honor is a rare distinction for an American — and an official embrace of the religious leader from the halls of government.
He is only the fourth person to lie in honor, following civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005 and two slain Capitol Police officers in 1998, the Architect of the Capitol’s records say. The practice is similar to government or military officials lying in state, but is used for private citizens.
After the announcement of Graham’s death, Ryan said in a statement that the evangelist had “spread the gospel in 185 countries during his 99 years on Earth, touching the lives of many and forever changing the course of the world’s spiritual health.”
Graham prayed with every US president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama and became known as “America’s pastor.”
After the news of Graham’s death, Trump tweeted that there was “nobody like him.”
“The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man,” the President tweeted.
Graham’s son Franklin, who took over the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, had participated in Trump’s inauguration. Trump was one of the more than 800 guests who attended Graham’s 95th birthday celebration in 2013 in Asheville, North Carolina.
Criticism of honoring Graham at the Capitol has been somewhat muted, with the Freedom From Religion Foundation issuing a statement calling the plan to have his body lie in honor inappropriate and citing, among other things, his comments on the Nixon tapes disparaging Jewish people, for which he apologized after they became public in March 2002.
Graham had urged Dwight Eisenhower to run for president in 1952 and served as an unofficial adviser to the former general after he was elected. He also became close friends with President Lyndon Johnson and preached at the former president’s funeral.
President George W. Bush credits Graham with helping him change from a lukewarm Christian with a fondness for beer to a serious and committed evangelical.
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