MONTREAT, N.C. | President Obama made a pilgrimage Sunday to Billy Graham’s mountainside home, concluding his North Carolina vacation with his first meeting with the ailing evangelist who has counseled commanders in chief since Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The 48-year-old president made the short drive to Montreat from Asheville, where he spent the weekend, to see the 91-year-old Mr. Graham and son Franklin, also an evangelist.
During the visit, which lasted about 30 minutes and included aides and advisers to both men, Mr. Obama had a private prayer and conversation with Billy Graham. The evangelist gave Mr. Obama two Bibles, one for him and one for the first lady, Graham spokesman Larry Ross said.
Mr. Obama was “extraordinarily gratified that he took the time to meet with him,” White House spokesman Bill Burton said.
Franklin Graham said his father and Mr. Obama did most of the talking. They reminisced about their roots in Chicago - Mr. Graham went to Wheaton College and began some of his ministry in the region; Mr. Obama moved to Chicago after college and began his political career there. And they talked about golf.
“The conversation was very cordial, very nice,” the younger Mr. Graham said. “When the president got ready to leave, the president prayed for my father, my father prayed for him.”
Mr. Graham said his father prayed for the nation and that God would give Mr. Obama wisdom in his decisions. The president prayed to thank God for Billy Graham’s life, Franklin Graham said.
Mr. Obama confided, like other presidents before him, how lonely, demanding and humbling the presidency can be, Mr. Ross said.
“That is a discussion that Mr. Graham has had with previous presidents who realize not only the demands but the loneliness of the job. And they’re humbled by that,” Mr. Ross said. “The only way one can do [the job] properly is to draw on spiritual resources.”
Billy Graham has been ailing for years, yet his son said the frail evangelist appeared as strong as ever during the conversation with Mr. Obama.
“It’s like my father rises to the occasion,” he said.
Billy Graham’s last crusade was in 2005, in New York. Since his wife’s death nearly three years ago, he has spent most of his time at his home. Public appearances have been rare, and his hearing and eyesight are failing. Mr. Ross said Mr. Obama’s visit was the first time a sitting president has met with Mr. Graham at his home.
Franklin Graham has been in the news recently. The Army rescinded an invitation for him to speak at a Pentagon prayer service, citing what it said were his inappropriate comments about Islam.
Franklin Graham said he and Mr. Obama spoke briefly about the Pentagon spat and that he told the president that activists with an agenda were trying to pull all religion out of the military.
“I wanted to make him aware of that,” Franklin Graham said. “He said he would look into it.”
Franklin Graham also said he thanked the president for his decision to have the government appeal a federal judge’s ruling that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional. Mr. Obama has said he plans to issue a proclamation again this year.