Evangelical Protestant preacher the Rev. Billy Graham passed away at the age of 99.
He preached Jesus Christ in-person to hundreds of millions of people in nearly every country in the world. He fought for Civil Rights and against Communism. He befriended every U.S. president from Eisenhower to Obama. And he was a friend of Catholics, especially Pope St. John Paul II.
When Graham started preaching his “crusades” in 1947, relations between evangelical Protestants and Catholics were far different than they are today, filled with deep suspicion and distrust on both sides – which made his friendship with Catholics so important.
Already in 1966, one year of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and it’s calls for renewal and ecumenism in the Catholic Church, Graham said, “I find myself closer to Catholics than the radical Protestants. I think the Roman Catholic Church today is going through a second Reformation.”
And after hearing John Paul II preach in Canada in 1980, Graham lauded the Pope’s preaching: “I’ll tell you, that was just about as straight an evangelical address as I’ve ever heard. … He gives moral guidance in a world that seems to have lost its way.”
He first met Pope John Paul II in 1981, but didn’t talk about it until 1990, due to ecumenical suspicions in the Christian community. They chatted like “long-lost friends,” exchanged gifts, and John Paul II held Graham’s hand as they talked.
Then, just before Graham left, there was a pause in the conversation. “Suddenly the pope’s arm shot out and he grabbed the lapels of my coat,” Graham later recalled. “He pulled me forward within inches of his own face. He fixed his eyes on me and said, ‘Listen Graham, we are brothers.‘”
When John Paul II died in 2005, Graham’s statement read: “It was my privilege to meet with him at the Vatican on various occasions, and I will always remember his personal warmth to me and his deep interest in our ministry.”