NEW YORK – As his final American revival meeting continued Saturday, a fragile Billy Graham was met onstage by former President Clinton, who honored the evangelist, calling him “a man I love.”
Clinton spoke briefly before Graham’s sermon and recalled how the man known as America’s pastor had refused to preach before a segregated audience in Arkansas decades ago when that state was in a bitter fight over school desegregation.
“I was just a little boy, and I’ll never forget it,” said Clinton, who was joined by his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I’ve loved him ever since. God bless you, friend.”
Graham called the Clintons “wonderful friends” and “a great couple,” quipping that the former president should become an evangelist and allow “his wife to run the country.”
Graham, 86, then launched into a short sermon that was interrupted by applause five times. Organizers estimated 80,000 people had come to the crusade at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens – about 20,000 more than the opening night Friday. The rally ends today. The evangelist is suffering from fluid on the brain, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease. He uses a walker due to a pelvic fracture and is largely confined to his home in Montreat, N.C. He had said previously that the rally “will be the last in America, I’m sure.”
Despite his many ailments, he spoke strongly for about 15 minutes, in an address meant to appeal to young people.
Graham’s son and successor, the Rev. Franklin Graham, sat nearby, ready to finish the speech in case his father could not.