Church leaders have begun paying tribute to the American evangelist Rev Billy Graham, who died on Wednesday, aged 99, at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.
In a career spanning more than 60 years, he preached to tens of millions of people either in person or via TV and satellite links. Graham was a spiritual adviser to American presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He insisted on racial integration for his revivals and crusades in 1953 and invited Martin Luther King Jr to preach jointly at a revival in New York City in 1957. Graham bailed King out of jail in the 1960s when King was arrested in demonstrations.
In 1992, Graham became the first foreign religious leader to visit North Korea, where he met its ruler, Kim Il-sung. He returned two years later. The family has close ties to the country - Graham's late wife Ruth, whose parents were missionaries, grew up in Pyongyang in the 1930s. She said that her time there constituted "some of the most memorable years of my life".
Archbishop Justin Welby said: "Dr Billy Graham stood as an exemplar to generation upon generation of modern Christians. When it comes to a living and lasting influence upon the worldwide church he can have few equals: for he introduced person after person to Jesus Christ. There are countless numbers who began their journey of faith because of Dr Graham.
"The debt owed by the global church to him is immeasurable and inexpressible. Personally I am profoundly grateful to God for the life and ministry of this good and faithful servant of the gospel; by his example he challenged all Christians to imitate how he lived and what he did.
"He was one who met presidents and preachers, monarchs and musicians, the poor and the rich, the young and the old, face to face. Yet now he is face to face with Jesus Christ, his saviour and ours. It is the meeting he has been looking forward to for the whole of his life."
Cardinal Daniel N DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement: "Today, we pray for the soul of the Rev. Billy Graham to the Lord he so dearly loved and offer our condolences to his family. Billy Graham was a preacher of God's Word not only in his sermons, but also in the very life he lived. 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."
Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said: "Headlines today will describe Billy Graham as the preacher to millions and the advisor of presidents but first and foremost, he was a man of deep Christian faith. Committed to the Gospel, his personal witness and preaching of Jesus Christ touched the hearts of Americans spanning many generations.
In a particular way, Catholics feel the loss of one of the greatest pastors of our time. His ecumenical approach in ministry helped to forge bonds of friendship and understanding between Catholics and Protestants. He reminded us that what we had in common in Christ was greater than what divided us.
We pray for God to comfort his family and we join Christians throughout the nation and the world who pray today with blessed assurance, 'Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master!'" (Matt 25:23)