Billy Graham first met Pope John Paul II 40 years ago while he was traveling through Europe. In 1981, Rev. Graham was leaving Hungary where he was presented with an honorary doctorate degree by the oldest Protestant seminary in the world. Leaving Hungary, Billy Graham set on to the Vatican for a brief trip to meet with the pope. He recalls the visit in his autobiography Just As I Am:
Years before, I had visited the city-state as a tourist, but on this trip I was to be received by Pope John Paul II, my first visit with a pope. We were met by a contingent of Swiss Guards, in their colorful medieval uniforms, and escorted into a private elevator leading to the papal apartments. Our first reaction was that the magnificence of the public areas of the Vatican was surpassed, if anything, by that of the private areas.
As I was ushered into his quarters, Pope John Paul II greeted me, and we shook hands warmly. I found him extremely cordial and very interested in our ministry, especially in his homeland. After only a few minutes, I felt as if we had known each other for many years. He was very interested in an album of pictures taken during our Japan Crusade a few months before; he was scheduled to make his first trip there shortly.
He also expressed great delight at the small gift I had brought him, a woodcarving of a shepherd with his sheep, done by a North Carolina craftsman. We recalled together Jesus’ words in John 10:14, 16. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. . . . I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.” In turn the pope gave me a medallion commemorating his papacy and several magnificently bound volumes.
Billy Graham and Pope John Paul II continued their friendship after meeting in 1981. A few years later, Rev. Graham was asked by the pope to preach on the subject of family at a Scripture and prayer service in South Carolina. While Rev. Graham regrettably could not attend, he was honored to have received the invitation.
These two internationally known men worked together to share Scripture and to pray for a hurting world. In their efforts of sharing scripture with a hurting world, they were representatives of Christ to world leaders including President Kim in North Korea. Billy Graham’s message remained consistent, “The message will not change, for it is timeless, meant for every generation… More than anything else, I yearn for people to understand the message of Christ and accept it as their own.”