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Trump honors 'extraordinary life' of Billy Graham at Capitol ceremony

By Susan McFarland
1/15
Trump honors 'extraordinary life' of Billy Graham at Capitol ceremony
President Donald Trump touches the casket of Rev. Billy Graham, lying in honor, as, from left to right, Karen Pence, Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell look on in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The Rev. Billy Graham lay in honor under the Capitol Rotunda Wednesday -- becoming just the fourth private citizen in U.S. history to receive that distinction.

President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all honored Graham at a memorial service.

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Trump said the late evangelist's message was clear, that everywhere Graham went, he taught the same "beautiful" message: "God loves you."

"The testimony is endless," Trump said. "Today, we give thanks for this extraordinary life. And it's very fitting that we do so right here in the rotunda of the United States Capitol, where the memory of the American people is enshrined. Here in this room, we remember America is a nation sustained by prayer."

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Trump recalled that his father, Fred Trump, once took him to see Graham at New York City's Yankee Stadium -- and told the story of the pastor's own conversion, which happened in 1934 when Graham's father allowed a group of North Carolina businessmen to use a portion of the family's dairy farm for a day of prayer.

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"On that day... they prayed the Lord would raise up someone to preach the Gospel to the ends of the Earth," Trump said. "Billy Graham was just 15 years old at the time. Just a few months later, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. ... That North Carolina farm boy walked out of those fields into a great and beautiful history."

Trump described Graham as ambassador for Christ, who reminded the world of the power of prayer and the gift of God's grace.

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Ryan referenced Matthew 22:37 as a testament to the way Graham lived.

"You should love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind," Ryan said, adding that Graham woke up every day and did just that. "Here lies America's pastor. A man made great not by who he was, but by who he served."

McConnell praised Graham's extensive evangelism, noting that he shared the Gospel with more people face to face than anyone in history.

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"His aim was simple, sharing the good news with as many souls as he possibly could. When there were triumphs, Billy insisted they were not manmade. The secret of my work, he explained, is God," McConnell said.

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Prior to the benediction, Trump and first lady Melania Trump, McConnell and Ryan placed wreaths at each corner of Graham's casket.

Graham is just the fourth private citizen to lay in honor at the U.S. Capitol.

Capitol police officers Jacob J. Chestnut Jr. and John M. Gibson, who were killed in a shooting at the building, and civil rights icon Rosa Parks lay in state there in 1998 and 2005, respectively.

The tradition of lying in state began in in 1852 with the death of Sen. Henry Clay, who'd also served as House speaker and secretary of state. Thirty dignitaries, including 11 presidents, have received the honor. Lying in honor is a similar recognition reserved for non-officeholders or non-military personnel.

Graham, known as "America's pastor," died last week at age 99 at his Montreat, N.C., home. A procession on Saturday traveled 130 miles to take the evangelist's body back to his hometown of Charlotte, where more than 10,000 people paid tribute.

The public is allowed in the Capitol Rotunda from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday to view Graham's casket. The service was also livestreamed.

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Graham will return to North Carolina for a funeral Friday near his hometown. He will be buried beside his wife, Ruth McCue Bell, at the foot of the cross-shaped brick walkway in the Prayer Garden on the Billy Graham Library grounds.

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