BEIJING -- American evangelist Billy Graham, in Beijing en route to North Korea, said Saturday he will make his first trip to the atheist communist nation next week to preach the gospel and will also deliver messages from Pope John Paul II.
The famed Christian evangelist arrived Friday in Beijing and is scheduled to leave Tuesday for Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, for a six-day trip during which he will speak to political and religious leaders, students and others.
'I'm honored to be invited,' the 73-year-old Graham said in an interview at a downtown hotel. 'Why I was invited, I don't really know.
'It is a brand new place for me, and I want to make a lot of new friends. I will need a lot of prayer.'
Graham is renowned for his travels to nations officially hostile to religion, having made high-profile visits over the years to the Soviet Union and other communist countries. He made his first trip to China in 1988.
North Korea remains perhaps the world's most isolated police state under the totalitarian regime of President Kim Il Sung, but recently has allowed in a number of foreign visitors including South Korea's Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
Among other goals, Graham said he was carrying five messages from Pope John Paul II to give to North Korea's tiny Catholic community.
Graham said he would speak at Pyongyang's Catholic church and Protestant church, meet with political leaders and address students at Kim Il Sung University, where he has been asked to lecture on the influence of Christianity in the United States.
But he said he was uncertain as to how successful his mission would be. North Korea remains a nation intolerant of personal freedoms where religion is tightly supervised.
'We have to wait and see what his accomplished,' Graham said. 'Wherever the gospel is proclaimed, it has results in some way or another.'
He said he believed the North Koreans were interested in the United States and in 'improving their relations with outside countries,' and that no constraints had been placed on what he could say.
The trip follows lengthy talks between Graham's ministry and North Korean officials, in part stemming from the fact that Graham's wife, Ruth, who grew up in China, attended a foreign school in Pyongyang in the 1930s, when Japan ruled the Korean peninsula.
Graham said his wife had been invited but was unable to make the trip following recent back surgery. His 10-member delegation includes his son, ministry officials and educators.