US Bishops, Catholic Leaders Praise Christian Witness of Billy Graham

The evangelist died Feb. 21.

(photo: Photo courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association via CNA)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The evangelist Billy Graham died Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, his family announced. He was 99.

Born in Charlotte, Graham was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939. During his work in ministry, he wrote more than 30 books and conducted the annual Billy Graham Crusades until his retirement from active ministry in 2005. His last book, Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond the Now, was published in 2015.

During his time in ministry, Graham insisted that his crusades and rallies be racially integrated, and he was a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1981, Graham first met with St. John Paul II, who said that the two were “brothers.” They would meet again several times. When John Paul II died in 2005, Graham said he believed that the Pope had been “the most influential voice for morality and peace in the world during the last 100 years” and praised his “strong Catholic faith” and perseverance through his illnesses.

Prominent Catholics reacted with sadness to Graham’s death, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. In a statement on the archdiocesan website, Cardinal Dolan wrote that while his family was Catholic, there was a level of respect for Graham’s work in bringing people to Christ: “There was no question that the Dolans were a Catholic family, firm in our faith, but in our household there was always respect and admiration for Billy Graham and the work he was doing to bring people to God.”

He added, “As an historian, my admiration for him only grew as I studied our nation’s religious past and came to appreciate even more the tremendous role he played in the American evangelical movement. May the Lord that Billy Graham loved so passionately now grant him eternal rest.”

Cardinal Dolan’s sentiment was echoed by U.K. Catholic Herald editor Damian Thompson, who praised Graham’s evolution on Catholicism, as he “ended up acclaiming St. John Paul II as the world’s greatest witness to Christianity.” Thompson called Graham a “fine man, a powerful force for good.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered condolences to the Graham family and said that he was praying for the repose of his soul. Cardinal DiNardo praised Graham for his work spreading the Gospel around the country and said he was thankful for his ministry.

“His faith and integrity invited countless thousands around the world into a closer relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for the ministry of Billy Graham,” the cardinal said.

Robert George, a professor at Princeton University and a former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, compared Graham to St. John Paul II and other religious figures, saying that while he was “firmly rooted” in his denomination, Graham was able to reach all people.