President Donald Trump, lawmakers and everyday Americans paid their respects Wednesday to the late Reverend Billy Graham, the influential Southern preacher who was bestowed the rare national tribute of lying in honor in the US Capitol.
The one-time backwoods minister, who rose to become a spiritual advisor to several US presidents and millions of Christian faithful via their television sets, died last week at age 99.
The bulk of official Washington — including Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, half a dozen cabinet members and many of the 535 lawmakers in Congress — were in attendance, alongside Graham’s relatives.
Mourners filed quietly into the ornate Rotunda under the Capitol’s massive dome, as a military honor guard carried Graham’s casket from a hearse up the steps for the somber ceremony.
After Trump and his wife Melania presented a wreath, the president walked up to the coffin, placed his hand on its wooden surface, and tapped it a few times.
Graham, sometimes referred to as “America’s pastor,” was the world’s foremost Christian evangelist, who earned fame and a massive following by spreading a message of spiritual redemption at tent and stadium revival meetings, in a career that spanned decades.
Trump offered a simple but poignant title for the reverend: “an ambassador for Christ who reminded the world of the power of prayer and the gift of God’s grace.”
Graham had a spiritual awakening at age 15 in 1934.
“That choice didn’t just change Billy’s life,” Trump said during the ceremony.
“It changed our lives. It changed our country, and it changed, in fact, the entire world.”
Trump and Pence plan to attend Graham’s funeral on Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Despite humble beginnings, Graham became a plainspoken preacher of essential truths, whose message resonated far and wide, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
“Billy Graham lifted up our nation,” the Republican senator said. “A grateful nation pays respects.”