Thousands from around the world to attend Rev. Graham's 'last crusade'

Mourners from all over the globe gathered to pay their respects to the Rev. Billy Graham at a funeral that marks the culmination of more than a week of tributes to "America's Pastor."

Final preparations were finishing up as Graham will be laid to rest Friday afternoon at his childhood home on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library.

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Thousands of guests from around the world will say their final goodbyes to an icon dedicated to spreading the Gospel.

Credit: Sue Ograocki

Credit: Sue Ograocki

Plans for Friday's service took shape in the years after his last crusade in 2005 as he huddled with confidants and loved ones in his North Carolina mountain home. Musicians who had shared Graham's stage would sing. Some of the best preachers Graham knew - his own children - would deliver personal messages.

And evoking the "Canvas Cathedral" revivals that helped launch his ministry seven decades ago, mourners would gather under a tent to pay their final respects. For his family, the idea became capturing the feeling of the crusades that made Graham "America's Pastor" and the world's best-known Protestant preacher of his era.

The service is scheduled to start at noon Friday. The Rev. Franklin Graham will deliver the main funeral address for his father after personal messages from Billy Graham's three daughters and younger son. It is expected to last about 90 minutes, and also include prayers by pastors from as close as Charlotte and as far away as Asia.

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A Graham family spokesman said family members consider the service to be Graham's last crusade. More than 2,000 guests were invited to the private funeral.

A spokesman said at least 100 guests will be traveling from at least 50 other countries.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will attend the funeral and will be escorted by Graham’s grandson, a Major in the United States Army.

Credit: AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Credit: AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Graham’s headstone will read: “Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."

"His fingerprints are on this service for sure," family spokesman Mark DeMoss said. "The Graham family has long considered that his funeral eventually would really be his last crusade."

Crews closed the Billy Graham Parkway on Thursday night ahead of the funeral. Both directions of the parkway is shut down between South Tryon Street and Tyvola Road. The closure will last through Friday afternoon.

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Those trying to get to the airport during that time will need to use Interstate 85 or Interstate 485 to get to Josh Birmingham Parkway.

The Billy Graham Library and Graham’s gravesite will be closed to the public until Wednesday.

Graham, who died last week at age 99, brought a message of salvation to millions during visits and live broadcasts to scores of countries. While the invitation-only crowd Friday on the grounds of his Charlotte library is limited to 2,000 or so, internet livestreams are allowing many more to watch.

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The service features songs from gospel musicians who performed at Graham's events: Linda McCrary-Fisher, Michael W. Smith and the Gaither Vocal Band. They are all friends who sang for Graham at his home in recent years, DeMoss said.

Afterward, Billy Graham will be buried next to his wife in a memorial prayer garden at the library, with his grandchildren serving as pallbearers. His casket was made of pine by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

The funeral serves as the culmination of more than a week of tributes that included crowds lining the road for a procession from his home in the mountains to Charlotte, where Graham grew up. Approximately 13,000 people - including former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton - filed past his casket during a public viewing in Charlotte this week.

On Wednesday, Graham became the first private citizen since civil rights icon Rosa Parks in 2005 to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington. After the honor, his body returned to Charlotte for the final time Thursday.

The final homecoming was a simple and personal one. Only the sound of rain broke the silence of the pallbearers, six of Graham's grandsons, who guided his simple wooden coffin out of the hearse and began the slow walk toward the Billy Graham Library where it will remain until Friday's funeral.

Graham's casket was marched out of the U.S. Capitol by an honor guard representing all branches of the military on a rainy Thursday morning, as his earthly body left the Rotunda, where he lay in honor on Wednesday.

North Carolina representatives and senators said their final farewells and also presented the family with the flag that flew over the Capitol while Graham 's body was there.

Still, loved ones said Graham saw himself as a humble preacher who would have been embarrassed by such fanfare.

And most of all, to Graham, Friday's goodbye marks an end only to his earthly journey.

"Do I fear death? ... No. I look forward to death, with great anticipation," Graham told a Newsweek reporter in 2005. "I am looking forward to seeing God face to face. And that could happen any day."

Thousands pay respects to America's Pastor in in US Capitol

Thousands of people gathered Wednesday to pay their respects as Graham's body lay in honor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. It was only the fourth time in the nation's history that a private citizen has ever been given such an honor.

President Donald Trump, members of Congress and the Cabinet held a private ceremony before the doors were opened to the public.

[Trump pays tribute to Rev. Graham as body lies in honor at US Capitol]

The president gently touched the bare wood of Billy Graham's casket, the speaker of the House bowed his head and hundreds of other lawmakers, family and friends stood in a rare salute Wednesday to the man they called "America's pastor."

"He ministered to all walks, from some of the greats whose statues line this hall - Eisenhower, King, Ford and Reagan - to the everyday citizens lining up today to pay their respects," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, gesturing toward Graham's casket.

[Thousands of mourners pay final respects to Rev. Billy Graham]

[IMAGES: Thousands pay their respects to the Rev. Billy Graham]

President Donald Trump, who met Graham but is closer to his son, Franklin nonetheless recalled that the elder Graham had long been part of his life. Trump said his father, Fred, "said to me, 'Come on, son ... Let's go see Billy Graham at Yankee Stadium.' And it was something very special."

He called Graham "an ambassador for Christ who reminded the world of the power of prayer and the gift of God's grace."

A steady stream of people from different spots around the globe passed through the Rotunda, a powerful testament to the lives impacted by Graham.

[PHOTOS: The late Rev. Billy Graham lies in honor at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda]

Rep. Robert Pittenger spoke to Channel 9 about the time he caddied for the reverend, who gave him a bible.

“When he walked into a room, it was never about Billy Graham,” Pittenger said. “He was interested in that person. Today, we say a prayer for our country that all across this land the Lord will raise up people like Billy Graham to spread a message of love and hope.”

Graham's influence stretched far beyond the city where he counseled presidents and lawmakers to a global flock over the better part of seven decades. He is known for having met every president, Trump included, and counseled most.

[PHOTOS: Billy Graham was counselor to presidents]

But he learned to be wary of the heat of politics. Close to Richard Nixon, Graham later said the details of the Watergate scandal made him feel used.

But the world of American politics and government embraced Graham on Wednesday, a week after he died at age 99. Those gathered, including Vice President Mike Pence, some members of Trump's Cabinet and members of the House and Senate, stood around the casket. They were ringed by paintings of the nation's founders.

"The man we recognize today shared the Gospel with more people, face-to-face, than anyone else in history," said Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Nearly 50 family members accompanied Graham's casket to Washington, where he had befriended presidents of both parties. Graham's son, Franklin, tweeted a photo Wednesday of family members loading the casket onto a jet emblazoned with "Samaritan's Purse," the name of a Christian relief charity that he chairs.

The Rotunda entrances were draped with black fabric, and Graham's casket rested on a black-draped catafalque beneath the soaring ceiling and its painting, the "Apotheosis of Washington."

The reverend ministered to presidents until his health began to fail.

Former President Bill Clinton recalled seeing one of Graham's crusades as a child, a profound experience that became more amazing over his life. Graham counseled him as Arkansas governor, and later as president in the White House itself.

"In that little room, he was the same person I saw when I was 11 on that football field," Clinton said Tuesday after viewing the casket at Graham's home.

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visited Graham's home earlier in the week.

In Washington, Ryan said there had been no doubt that Graham would receive the honor of a public viewing in the Rotunda. He told reporters that almost immediately upon hearing of Graham's death he, Trump, McConnell and Rep. Patrick McHenry, who represents the Graham family's district, agreed it would happen.

Graham shares the honor of a public viewing in the Rotunda with 11 presidents and other distinguished Americans, starting with Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky in 1852 and, most recently, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii in 2012.

Graham is only the fourth private citizen to lie in honor. The others are two U.S. Capitol Police officers who died in the line of duty in 1998 and civil rights hero Rosa Parks in 2005.

President Trump is scheduled to attend the funeral but former President Barack Obama will not be attending.

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