- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Rev. Billy Graham, a self-described “simple country preacher who preached a simple Gospel,” became the fourth civilian in the nation’s history to lie in honor at the Capitol on Wednesday, his passing marked in a solemn ceremony beneath the Capitol’s soaring Rotunda by President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and a throng of lawmakers, government officials and dignitaries.

The Graham family was also in attendance as the brown wooden casket was placed at the center of the Rotunda. The convocation was delivered by House Chaplain Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, S.J.

Mr. Trump and leaders on Capitol Hill, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, also delivered remarks praising Mr. Graham, who passed away at the age of 99 on Feb. 21 after a lengthy illness.

Known as “America’s pastor,” Mr. Graham’s public addresses were broadcast nationwide from 1947 to 2005, attracting untold thousands to live out the demands of the Christian faith. Trying to stay nonpartisan, he served as a personal adviser to every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump spoke Wednesday about his personal experience of seeing Mr. Graham preach at Yankee Stadium in 1957 with his parents.

“Americans came in droves to hear that great young preacher. Fred Trump was a big fan. Fred Trump was my father,” Mr. Trump said.

He emphasized that Mr. Graham related most to those who were downtrodden and struggling, and that even in his global ministry, his focus was always the goodness of his native land.

Billy Graham carried his message around the world, but his heart, as Franklin will tell you, was always in America,” he said, referring to Mr. Graham’s fourth son who has continued his father’s ministry.

Franklin Graham tweeted a photo Wednesday of family members loading the casket onto a jet emblazoned with Samaritan’s Purse, the name of a Christian relief charity that he chairs, The Associated Press reported. Some 30 members of the extended Graham family were on hand for Wednesday’s ceremony in Washington.

Bipartisan tribute

Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said it was Mr. Graham’s humility, even after achieving global fame, that made him stand apart from other preachers.

“Eventually, through his own strength and personal greatness, he founds a world-changing ministry, leads historic revivals, and eventually lies here in honor in the United States Capitol while a grateful nation pays respects,” Mr. McConnell said, calling the preacher’s story “a man-made success story for the ages.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle gathered in the Rotunda to pay their respects. Three wreaths, one each from the House, Senate and the executive branch, were placed near the casket. The public ceremony was followed by a bicameral religious service.

“The man had such a gift for connecting with people,” said Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

He said it was Mr. Graham who reminded Americans that the moments of great struggle are often where they find their strength.

“In moments when we felt weak in spirit, when our country was on its knees, he reminded us, he convinced us, that is exactly when we find our grace and our strength,” Mr. Ryan said.

Private citizens like Mr. Graham “lie in honor” while government or military officials are lain in state. Only three other civilians have been accorded the privilege — famed civil rights demonstrator Rosa Parks in 2005 and two Capitol Police officers, Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, who died in the line of duty when a gunman entered the Capitol in 1998, according to the Architect of the Capitol.

Although Mr. Graham’s close ties to President Nixon would later cause him some embarrassment, other presidents in the wake of his passing have recalled Mr. Graham’s wise counsel and consoling demeanor in times of personal and professional crisis.

Former President Bill Clinton, like Mr. Trump, recalled seeing one of Mr. Graham’s crusades as a child, and said the preacher counseled him as Arkansas governor and later in the White House itself.

“In that little room, he was the same person I saw when I was 11 on that football field,” Mr. Clinton said Tuesday after viewing the casket at Graham’s home.

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, also visited Mr. Graham’s home earlier in the week, The Associated Press reported.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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