WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump paid tribute on Wednesday to the late Rev. Billy Graham at an unusual ceremony honoring the North Carolina pastor in the Capitol Rotunda, where his body will lie in state until Thursday.
“Billy Graham carried his message around the world, but his heart, as (his son and protege) Franklin will tell you, was always in America,” said Trump during his remarks at the ceremony, which was also attended by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, both Republicans.
“He took his message to the poorest places, to the downtrodden and to the brokenhearted, to inmates in prison and to the overlooked and the neglected. He felt a great passion for those that were neglected,” the president said.
“God loves you. That was his message. God loves you,” said Trump.
Graham, a world-renowned Protestant preacher and spiritual adviser to several US presidents, died last week at age 99.
Trump recalled one of his earliest memories of Graham, saying to those assembled for the Capitol ceremony that his own father, Fred Trump, took him to New York’s Yankee Stadium when he was a boy to hear Graham preach.
The president praised Graham’s influence in the US and around the world, saying that hundreds of millions of people had come to his sermons over the years and many millions more listened to or viewed them via radio and television.
Ryan and McConnell also had words of praise for Graham, noting that he had a special gift for connecting with people, sharing the Gospel face to face with more people than anyone else in history.
Graham joins a select group of just 33 noteworthy US citizens – 11 of whom had served as president – whose bodies have lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda on the same catafalque that bore the body of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. The pastor, however, is the first religious leader to be so honored and the first civilian to rest in the Capitol since civil rights leader Rosa Parks died in 2005.