Graham facilitated a global yearning for the Christian message

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

If you look at the photographs on these two pages alone, you get a sense of the reach and influence of the late Billy Graham, who has died aged 99.

He is photographed in the 1950s, addressing a crowd of 100,000 people in Berlin: a reminder of one of the seminal moments in the history of Northern Ireland, when the evangelical leader packed Windsor Park in Belfast in 1961.

See him also pictured a decade ago with living US presidents at the unveiling of his library in North Carolina. Graham was, as the 41st President, George HW Bush, says, America’s pastor. But he was much loved in these islands too, as the tweet below from Archbishop Justin Welby testifies, and as the letter, right, from the Evangelical Alliance also demonstrates.

He lived through for almost 100 years through the most tumultuous period in human history, being born in late 1918, days before the end of the First World War.

It was after the end of the Second World War in the late 1940s that he began to become famous. He was aged in his late 20s when radio was at its height and television emerging, and quickly established a reputation as one of the most influential Christian preachers ever. By 1992, he was drawing 150,000 to rallies in the once barely accessible city of Moscow.

Graham combined two things: his ability to communicate and the still deep yearning that there is for spirituality, and specifically for the Christian message.

The country in which he secured his reputation, the United States, remains (like Northern Ireland), one in which church attendance is still strong. Christianity was at the heart of America, even though there was from the first days of independence a separation of church and state.

From bailing out Martin Luther King at the height of the civil rights tensions to meeting popes and business leaders and kings and queens, Graham’s ministry reached the mighty as well as the masses around the world.

His long and dutiful life is over but as the quote in the letter opposite shows, he foresaw this day as “a change of address”.